‘Can Marriage Ever Change? Homosexuality and the Church’

The UK government has recently initiated a “consultation” on same-sex marriage. The Anglican dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral has urged the Church of England to welcome any couple that wishes to take on the virtues of Christian marriage. The senior Catholic cleric in the UK, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, has strenuously argued the Vatican’s position and opposes and possible change in British law.

This week’s edition of excellent UK Catholic newspaper The Tablet features three prominent Catholic thinkers–Timothy Radcliffe, Martin Pendergast, and Tina Beattie–reflecting on the issue of marriage in the Church.

See below:

‘Marriage is founded on sexual difference and potential for fertility’ by Fr. TIMOTHY RADCLIFFE, former Master General of the Dominican order and a widely respected spiritual guide, author, and lecturer.

The Catholic Church does not oppose gay marriage. It considers it to be impossible. If it were possible, then we would have to support it since the Church tells us that we must oppose all discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The issue is not gay rights but a wonderful truth of our humanity, which is that we are animals: rational animals according to the medievals, spiritual animals open to sharing the life of God.

In the sacraments, the fundamental dramas of our bodily life are blessed and become open to God’s grace: birth and death, eating and drinking, sex and illness. St Thomas Aquinas says that grace perfects nature and does not destroy it.

Marriage is founded on the glorious fact of sexual difference and its potential fertility. Without this, there would be no life on this planet, no evolution, no human beings, no future. Marriage takes all sorts of forms, from the alliance of clans through bride exchange to modern romantic love. We have come to see that it implies the equal love and dignity of man and woman. But everywhere and always, it remains founded on the union in difference of male and female. Through ­ceremonies and sacrament this is given a deeper meaning, which for Christians includes the union of God and humanity in Christ.

This is not to denigrate committed love of people of the same sex. This too should be cherished and supported, which is why church leaders are slowly coming to support same-sex civil unions. The God of love can be present in every true love. But “gay marriage” is impossible because it attempts to cut loose marriage from its grounding in our biological life. If we do that, we deny our humanity. It would be like trying to make a cheese soufflé without the cheese, or wine without grapes.

From the beginning, Christianity has stood up for the beauty and dignity of our bodily life, blessed by our God who became flesh and blood like us. This has always seemed a little scandalous to “spiritual” people, who think that we should escape the messy realities of bodies. And so the Church had to oppose Gnosticism in the second century, Manichaeism in the fourth, Catharism in the thirteenth. These all either had contempt for the body or regarded it as unimportant.

We, too, influenced as we are by Cartesianism, tend to think of ourselves as minds trapped in bodies, ghosts in machines. A friend said to me the other day: “I am a soul, but I have a body.” But the Catholic trad­ition has always insisted on the fundamental unity of the human person. Aquinas famously said: “I am not my soul.”

Lynne Featherstone, the Equalities Minister, is right to say the Churches do not have an exclusive right to determine who can marry – but nor does the State, because we cannot simply decide by some mental or legal act what it means to be a human being. Our civilisation will flourish only if it recognises the gift of our bodily existence, which includes the amazing creativity of sexual difference, lifted up into love. Giving formal recognition to this through the institution of marriage in no way disparages the blessings brought to us by gay people.

Timothy Radcliffe OP is a former master of the Dominicans. His latest book is Taking the Plunge: living baptism and confirmation, to be published by Continuum on 28 April.

‘Rather than buying into a marital bond, the sacramentality of such unions is what many of us strive to live out’ by MARTIN PENDERGAST

Timothy Radcliffe is trying to be typically generous to lesbian and gay people in his comments. Nevertheless when he states, in much less strident tones than some religious leaders, that “marriage” cannot be redefined by either State or Church, he has got himself into a double bind. Church and State have frequently redefined marriage and its structures over centuries due to a variety of factors: cultural patterns and religious influences, as well as social and human development. The model of marriage that we have today is rooted more strongly in eighteenth- and nineteenth-­century social patterns than it is in earlier religious traditions.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, David could write of the love shared between himself and Jonathan as surpassing even that of a man and woman. The relationship between the Roman centurion and his beloved “servant” who was healed (made whole) by Jesus in the gospel story is now widely accepted by scholars to indicate an affirmation of the love between the two men. Then there is the love between Ruth and Naomi, between Felicity and Perpetua, if the traditions are to be respected.

I believe Timothy Radcliffe risks idealising marriage too strongly, seeing it through his own dedicated prism of vowed celibacy. He states that “marriage is founded on the glorious fact of sexual difference and its potential fertility”. But the social and anthropological structures of marriage are rooted not in biology but in relationality. As the Hebrew Scriptures say: “It is not good for a person to be alone.” Also, what of those who clearly have no potential for fertility – are they to be prevented from marrying, limited to a version of civil unions?

Faith communities have redefined marriage throughout their history, countenancing and rejecting polygamous marriage, allowing divorce and remarriage, and the Second Vatican Council stated that the ends of marriage are twofold, not solely based upon procreation. In medieval times the focus was so strongly on betrothal rites that marriage, in some places, was a rarity, since so few people could fulfil the social and economic requirements for a marriage to take place before the altar. And what of all those “sworn brotherhood” rites, adapted also to include same-sex female partners, identified by researchers such as Alan Bray and John Boswell? In spite of all this, I am not a supporter of same-sex marriage for myself. I hold, conscientiously, that the institution of marriage, in spite of all its cultural and social variability, is essentially patriarchal and not a status I wish to adopt.

The essence of civil unions is that they are based on an equality of persons legally expressed in a mutual signing of a contractual covenant, rather than expressed in vows of subjection, one to another. It is this value of equality that same-sex couples in civil unions bring to the common good. Rather than buying into a marital bond, the sacramentality of such unions is what many of us strive to live out. It is to be hoped this will increasingly be recognised by faith communities and their leadership. Happily, many congregation members, parents and families have got this message.

Martin Pendergast is gay, Catholic and a founder member of the Cutting Edge Consortium, which promotes equality and human rights across religions and beliefs.


‘Marriage is not just about sex but about a lifelong commitment to bodily unity in difference with another human beingby TINA BEATTIE

If we allow the marriage between Christ and the Church to become the mystery within which all human loving participates and towards which all human love is drawn, and if we accept that sexual love is good even when it is non-procreative, can we not go beyond this “impossibility” of gay marriage?

Marriage is not just about sex but about a lifelong commitment to bodily unity in difference with another human being in all the interwoven materiality of our lives. Yes, of course, we are our bodies, and in some species (not all) the reproduction of the species depends upon heterosexual intercourse. Yet couldn’t marriage become an inclusive rather than an exclusive sacrament?

A good heterosexual marriage models a fertile way of human loving that entails a lifelong commitment to the other and an openness to the vulnerable outsider (a newborn child is definitely such a person, but so is any person in need of the love and stability that a loving relationship can offer). A sexual relationship – homosexual or heterosexual, fertile or infertile – which is turned in on itself and closed to others, which lacks permanent commitment for better or worse, or which is violent and abusive, is not what Christians mean by marriage.

If we want to understand the sacrament, we need to look to Christ and the Church, not to the abundant diversity of participation within that sacramental love that constitutes our bodily human relationships. I’ve been married for 37 years and I have four children, but the loving relationships of my gay friends have helped me to understand more deeply what marriage means as a partnership of equals. I hope that they in turn have been enriched by their married heterosexual friends, and have better understood what their love means within the sacramental love of Christ and the Church.

In these times of radical change in our understanding of sexuality and human dignity (especially the full and equal dignity of women in this life and not just in the life to come), maybe we heterosexuals need the marriages of our homosexual friends to help us to understand what marriage looks like when it’s not corrupted by traditions of domination and subordination.

Professor Tina Beattie is director of the Digby Stuart Research Centre for Catholic Studies at the University of Roehampton.

Read more from The Tablet.

Jeanette Winterson: When Bankers Rob the World

“Meanwhile we had riots [in the UK]. David Cameron our beloved PM said that they weren’t politically motivated, as though you can have a bunch of bankers rob the world, get bailed out by our taxes, force a global recession, meet with neither punishment nor sanctions, and expect no social consequences.

The message is that a particular class or a particular kind can behave as they like and the rest of us will pay for it. When an underclass riots and behaves as it likes, the police use water canons and kids get 18 months for stealing dustbins and bottles of water.

I hate what happened in the riots but they were nothing compared to the robbery we have all had to put up with from the banks. Pensions are gone, jobs are gone, savings have disappeared. People have lost their homes and their hope. Kids have lost their future, their chance at affordable education, and any sense of justice. They went out and smashed and grabbed. They copied the masters of the universe.

Political unrest means more than organised direct action; it can be a trigger response to an intolerable situation.

Sometimes I walk round the really poor parts of town. Frankly, I don’t know why there aren’t more riots. The toxic message is that life is all about spending power and buying power. You can’t pump that out 24/7 through TV, Web, and Social media and not expect a major mess on your hands when suddenly there is no money. If your only status is your trainers and you can’t buy the trainers what are you going to do? If there are no jobs what are you going to do?

Yes the riots were mindless, malicious, destructive, anti-social. And so was parcelling up junk bonds as A rate security and pushing loans on people who could never repay them. Malicious, destructive, anti-social – but no, it wasn’t mindless – it was done deliberately to turn a profit at the expense of the social order.

And those guys didn’t go to Court, they talked they way around a few Select Committees. They didn’t get fined – they collected their bonuses. They didn’t go to jail – they threatened to leave the country if they were regulated. But none of that was criminal was it?”–Jeanette Winterson, author of Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Bruce Kent to Generals: ‘Don’t wait until you retire to say that wars are illegal or unwinnable.’

Tens of thousands of Brits marched in London’s Trafalgar Square last week demanding that Britain withdraw troops from Afghanistan. The “Time to Go” public demonstration was organized by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the British Muslim Initiative, and Stop the War Coalition. The keynote speaker was Catholic peace campaigner Bruce Kent, vice-chair of Pax Christi/UK.

Like the Obama administration, UK Prime Minister David Cameron has said that UK combat troops will be withdrawn, but not until 2015.  Bruce Kent’s speech is below:

“It is of course an honour to be with you today to join my voice to the tens of thousands who are calling for the withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan and a negotiated end to that war which seems to be without end.

The war in Afghanistan is expensive, nonsensical and stupid. Our governments past and present do seem to be incredibly stupid when it come to matters of defence. Amazingly, we are in due course to have, at vast expense, two new aircraft carriers. One we will at once sell. Are we now the world’s aircraft carrier suppliers? The other will join the Royal Navy, but for between 5 and 10 years it will have no planes. ‘Yes Minister’ could not think up a more absurd scenario for comic TV.

I am old enough to remember the British empire. Those days are gone. We are not the world’s policeman. If we want a real war to sort out then how about the Congo where millions have died in the last ten years and a UN Peace keeping force seems to be overwhelmed by the problem.

We are meant to be defeating terrorists, but we are manufacturing them by the thousands. We began this enterprise without the authority of the UN on the coat tails of the United States. It is time to end it. If the Afghan Government – as corrupt as any today – wants outside help then it should come from a Muslim state. We in the so called ‘Christian’ West have so wrecked the Middle East for well over 100 years that there is no credit left on our card. It is time to go.

I say this in front of the families and friends of many who have been wounded or killed in this conflict. Those young lives should never have been wasted. Of course they need every help from voluntary and public donations. But the best help we can give to their comrades is to say NO.

A word to generals, admirals and the like. Don’t wait until you retire to say that wars are illegal or unwinnable. Don’t keep silent when politicians act unlawfully. Say NO at the start and do not leave it to those much, much further down the military pecking order to have the courage to refuse. Some of those are with us today. I salute them.

Congratulations on all your efforts. One day we will learn that real peace is only built on justice and the operation of law.”

Anglican Bishop Mark Ryland: ‘Workaholism is Not a Christian Virtue’

The Anglican Bishop of Shrewsbury, UK, has warned against growing workaholism, and has commended relaxation and hospitality instead. In his regular diocesan update, Bishop Mark Ryland lays out the necessity for sabbath, rest, and renewal.

By way of information: The U.S. does not have “national holidays” like they do in the European Union – in the sense of days on which all employees in receive a day free from work and all business is halted. The U.S. federal holidays are technically apply only to federal employees. States and local jurisdictions decide how they will follow them. And private businesses don’t have to follow them at all. Ryland writes:

I wonder if we British don’t really value rest and relaxation? We seem to make a virtue out of unceasing work; we boast about how busy we are, as if the hectic pace of our lives is proof that we are important and significant. We feel guilty when we’re not working and we’re suspicious of anyone who lifts their nose from the grindstone for too long. In France, the whole country basically shuts down for the month of August and everyone heads for the beach or the mountains. While the number of public holidays in Britain is eight; on the continent it’s ten or eleven. Despite working more hours, it is debatable whether our country is any more productive. Indeed, Britain has one of the highest records for workdays lost due to sickness in Europe.

In our fast paced world, tales of emotional exhaustion and spiritual bankruptcy are not uncommon and stress is a recognised illness. People feel stretched and overloaded – indeed it is expected of them! I noticed a recent advert on TV that promised to keep you looking fresh, even after sixteen hours. It seemed to be applauding those ‘tough people’ who worked sixteen hour days. Crazy!

We were not, however, designed to be forever on the go. Fast paced lifestyles and little sleep rob us not only of energy but also of relationships. This seems to be a particular danger in the Church where it is all too easy for work and ministry to become the other woman or man in a marriage. We rob ourselves, however, when we desire autonomy or when we imagine we are indispensable, declaring that we can manage alone, that we don’t need anyone or anything else to help us. As Charles de Gaulle once said: ‘the graveyards are full of indispensable men’.

Jesus may have worked long hours teaching and healing but he knew that he needed to draw aside, to step out of the rush and away from the demands laid upon him. He knew of his need to find peace and to reconnect with his Father, gaining spiritual energy and sustenance in solitude. Exhaustion is a fact of life. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that even young people grow tired and become weary. He tells us that the remedy for weariness is rest, waiting on God, waiting to be filled with his strength. So if the prophets recognised the need for spiritual refuelling and Jesus prioritised time alone with his father, how much more do we need it?

We need to relearn this… I need to relearn this! More than that the world needs us God’s people – his Church – to model a healthy rhythm of work and rest for we live in a world that is a long way out of balance. In our society, young and old seek oblivion in alcohol; anti-depressants are amongst the most prescribed medications. People are yearning for real rest as the lie of consumerisms’ ability to satisfy in any meaningful way is being exposed. This deep recession gives us an opportunity and a choice. It could mean that we go on blindly working harder and harder to obtain the things we have grown used to possessing; or it could mean a time to take stock and count our blessings for what we enjoy – what Archbishop David Hope called an opportunity to model a lifestyle of ‘enoughness’.

If you’re like me, it will be an evening fishing on the river; if you’re like the Archdeacon of Salop, it will be playing with your model railway in the attic: a walk in the park; reading a good book; playing games with your children and grand-children, listening to the radio, visiting neighbours and friends – there are so many simple and inexpensive ways to discover re-creation.

As a creator of community, the church is called to model the true worth of human beings as men and women made in the image of God. Making room for the marginalised and the newcomer, providing opportunities for people to meet, relax, play together and strengthen friendships, is a wonderful way to help people belong and feel cherished. In these simple acts we proclaim good news to our neighbours: ‘you have great worth, regardless of how much or how little you accomplish. You have value because God is your Father and, in Christ, you are loved as his very own.’ –Bishop Mark Ryland

Elizabeth Wilmshurst’s Testimony at the UK’s Iraq War Investigation Reads Like an Old Testament Prophet Battle

Elizabeth-Wilmshurst-001The UK is currently holding public hearings on the legality of their invasion of Iraq with the U.S. coalition. Was it legal to invade a sovereign nation without a resolution from the United Nations Security Council? Since I doubt we will ever have such an opportunity in the United States, I find it important to see what the Brits learn and what’s revealed as documents about the decision-making process are declassified.

Recently, Elizabeth Wilmshurst testified before the Chilcot Inquiry. She was the deputy legal adviser at the Foreign Office in the run up to the Iraq invasion in 2003. She was the only U.K. public official to publicly resign in protest after both she and Sir Michael Wood, the senior legal advisor at the Foreign Office, told the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, that invading Iraq without UN support would be a breach of international law and Goldsmith advised Defense Minister Jack Straw and Prime Minister Tony Blair that it would not.

Her resignation letter was simple, but clear: “I cannot in conscience go along with advice – within the Office or to the public or Parliament – which asserts the legitimacy of military action without such a resolution, particularly since an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression; nor can I agree with such action in circumstances which are so detrimental to the international order and the rule of law.

Goldsmith had flip-flopped on the issue. At first he agreed with Wilmshurst and Wood, but then changed his mind. In Wilmhurst’s testimony to the Chilcot Inquiry this week she explains his decision-making process. Here’s an excerpt:

SIR RODERIC LYNE: But then, on 7 March, [former UK attorney general Lord Goldsmith] came out with a different view [on whether the UK could invade Iraq without the permission of the UN Security Council], in which he stated that — he accepted that there was a reasonable case that could be made in favour of the revival argument. How did you see that position that he had adopted?

MS ELIZABETH WILMSHURST: Well, of course, I was sorry because I then had to consider my own position. But there were — there were two things that struck me about it. First, that he had relied, and he said he had relied, on the views of the negotiators of the resolution to change the provisional view that he had previously had, and the issue really is: how do you interpret a resolution or a treaty in international law and is it sufficient to go to individual negotiators, but not all negotiators, and ask them for their perceptions of private conversations, or does an international resolution or treaty have to be accessible to everyone so that you can take an objective view from the wording itself and from published records of the preparatory work? I mean, it must be the second. The means of interpretation has to be accessible to all. But the Attorney had relied on private conversations of what the UK negotiators or the US had said that the French had said. Of course, he hadn’t asked the French of their perception of those conversations. That was one point that I thought actually was unfortunate in the way that he had reached his decision, and the other point that struck me was that he did say that the safest route was to ask for a second resolution. We were talking about the massive invasion of another country, changing the government and the occupation of that country, and, in those circumstances, it did seem to me that we ought to follow the safest route. But it was clear that the Attorney General was not going to stand in the way of the government going into conflict.

In Wilmhurst’s written statement before the Chilcot Inquiry, she wrote:

I regarded the invasion of Iraq as illegal, and I therefore did not feel able to continue in my post. I would have been required to support and maintain the Government’s position in international fora. The rules of international law on the use of force by States are at the heart of international law. Collective security, as opposed to unilateral military action, is a central purpose of the Charter of the United Nations. Acting contrary to the Charter, as I perceived the Government to be doing, would have the consequence of damaging the United Kingdom’s reputation as a State committed to the rule of law in international relations and to the United Nations.

These testimonies read like the best of the battles between the biblical prophets. I’d liken Elizabeth Wilmshurst to Micaiah in 1 Kings 22:

Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said unto them, Shall I go against Ramothgilead to battle, or shall I forbear? And they said, Go up; for the LORD shall deliver it into the hand of the king. And Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the LORD besides, that we might enquire of him? And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may enquire of the LORD: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. … So he came to the king. And the king said unto him, Micaiah, shall we go against Ramothgilead to battle, or shall we forbear? And he answered him, Go, and prosper: for the LORD shall deliver it into the hand of the king. And the king said unto him, How many times shall I adjure thee that thou tell me nothing but that which is true in the name of the LORD? And Macaiah said, I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd: and the LORD said, These have no master: let them return every man to his house in peace. And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, Did I not tell thee that he would prophesy no good concerning me, but evil?

But read the whole story for yourself, it’s breathtakingly current.




























Gustavo Gutierrez: Who Are the Rich?

Gustavo Gutierrez
Gustavo Gutierrez

Simon Barrow over at Ekklesia in the U.K. has a nice commentary Why Poverty and Wealth Remain the Issue.

Simon’s got a great anecdote about Gustavo Gutierrez, the “father of Liberation Theology” (or “really just the uncle,” as Gutierrez told me once).

In my experience, where you talk about wealth and poverty makes a huge difference in the conversation. A conversation that happens in a corporate board room at the World Bank will come to a radically different conclusion than the one had in a tin-roofed home in Sonsonate, El Salvador.

Here’s an excerpt:

Some years ago the Latin American theologian, Gustavo Gutierrez, was addressing a large international Christian audience on the subject of biblically-informed responses to poverty. Someone got up from the audience and asked pointedly, ‘But really, professor, who are the poor these days?’

This was a question he was often confronted with, Gutierrez noted. But it was invariably asked by a particular kind of person. Namely, someone who was not in any sense in danger of falling into poverty themselves!

Sit a group of wealthy people down and ask them to identify the poor, suggested the Peruvian “father of liberation theology” (who has spent a good deal of his own time and ministry working among the most vulnerable, oppressed and on-the-edge), and “they will argue about it until the cows come home, or until the kingdom of God comes, whichever is first.”

They will split opinions over ‘relative’ and ‘absolute’ poverty. They will earnestly ask whether someone living in a shack who has a small TV can really be classed as poor. They will debate measurements, guidelines, axes and thresholds for arriving at an adequate definition of ‘the poor’… before deciding, in all probability, that it is too complicated, that no-one really knows the solution, and perhaps that “poverty isn’t the only or even the most important issue” when confronting human need today.

Then they will most likely retire back to their own comfortable lives and put some money into a charity box dedicated to “those less fortunate” than themselves (ourselves).

By contrast, remarked Gutierrez, if you were to get together a group of people who know themselves to be poor – who struggle for daily survival, who are left out, who are made dependent because of their lack of resources – it will usually take them only a matter of seconds to answer the parallel question, “Who are the rich?” They will take one look at you, in comparison to themselves, and point their fingers of recognition.

Read the whole commentary here.

Analysis: How The Mainstream Media Portrayed the 2005 Kidnapping of Nonviolent Christian Activists and Why It Got It So Wrong

Ekklesia's Simon Barrow
Ekklesia's Simon Barrow

Simon Barrow at U.K.’s Ekklesia (an independent Christian news briefing service) has released an excellent analysis of how mainstream media is addicted to the dominant war narrative and how “alternative” media is better suited to report on the ongoing complexities of a story.

Using the example of the 2005-2006 kidnapping of Christian Peacemaker Team members in Baghdad, Barrow unpacks why the mainstream media was incapable of reporting a story that didn’t fit with their news formula.

While major news outlets failed, “alternative” media – primarily religious outlets who understood the alternative script in operation – were consistently better situated to report accurately and provide the best framing of the unfolding story. These alternative media sources included Ekklesia, Sojourners, the Mennonite Weekly Review, and even Vatican radio.

Barrow’s analysis is a must read for anyone involved in truth-telling in alternative media sources or anyone who wants to understand how to deconstruct the mainstream media. Barrow reveals the “story under the story.”

Here’s an excerpt from Barrow’s report, but I recommend reading his whole article titled Writing Peace Out of the Script.

For the Western news media, North American and European hostages in the Middle East are big stories because they personalise and dramatise what may otherwise seem like one endless series of nameless tragedies in faraway places. They become, in fact, mini-soap operas with their own recognizable cast of heroes, villains, victims, and clowns. Their stuff is the daily drama of hopes and despairs writ large. Their setting is an exotic but mostly unexamined stage. No one knows how long the mini-saga will last, but everyone realizes there can only be two outcomes: tragedy or triumph.

In the meantime, minute attention is paid to the twists and turns of the story — or, in the absence of any real news, what people think the story is or ‘should be’. And it is in these terms that the conventions of ‘the narrative’ and ‘the script’ are written by those who have to keep people watching and reading. They are experts at their craft. They know what communicates and sells to a broad or narrow audience, and they know how to tailor the plot details to the kind of story that can be told — and the kind of story that cannot.

The ‘dominant narrative’ (the generally accepted version of events) is frequently established in the earliest stages of an event and this was certainly the case in the CPT Iraq hostage situation. At its starkest, it went something like this: “A well-meaning but essentially naïve and ill-prepared group of peace activists — Christians who are fish out of water in a conflict-ridden Muslim environment — have been kidnapped by a militant group after political advantage or money. By being there and being caught out, these Western activists have caused danger to those in contact with them. If they are to be freed, it will most likely be because of financial inducement, diplomatic effort, or military bravery. Some admire their intent to bring peace, but hardheaded realists know that they are at best misguided and at worst irresponsible. Their chances of getting out of this alive are limited, but if they do it will be a warning to fellow activists that they should keep their idealism out of the real grown-up world of politics and violence. This is a war on terror, not a playground for wishful thinking.” …

Again and again, the dominant narratives of our time, most especially what theologian Walter Wink calls “the myth of redemptive violence,” assert themselves in such a way as to write peace and peacemaking out of the script. This is only to be expected. Expending a lot of energy raging against the machine is likely to be futile. The appropriate response is not despair or collusion, but the cultivation of what the late Archbishop Helder Camara once called “small-scale experiments in hope.”

Such experiments arise from the constructive but vulnerable witness of persons like those who serve with Christian Peacemaker Teams in situations of seemingly intractable destructiveness — and above all in the local people whose ongoing resistance to the powers that be is the only final source of alternatives, when attempts to impose external ‘solutions’ by force inevitably break down. To be effective, however, alternatives need to spread. To spread they must be heard. And to be heard they must be re-inserted into the script, written out of it (in the sense of inscribed within and scribed without) — not written off, or written away. This is a vital ongoing task, both within the media environment, in terms of the practicalities of conflict transformation, and in relation to public policy on interventions in situations of conflict.

Read the whole article here. To read one of my articles on CPT in Iraq, check out Raising An Army of ‘Peculiar’ People.

Cardboard City Catholics

cardboardcityorigThirty-two teens from a west London Catholic parish became homeless for a day as part of their preparation for being “confirmed” (making an adult commitment) in the Catholic Church. I LOVE this as a way of practicing living out the gospel and embodying the social teachings of the Catholic Church.

Some find it easy to dismiss this kind of symbolic action, but I have to say that it’s this kind of experience that shapes and forms the individual conscience. It’s not that this particular action will be effective in ending homelessness (though they did raise £1000 for the local shelter), but it will convert a whole generation of Catholics sensitive to the issues.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Annette Brazier, who leads the catachetical programme at Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Acton, explained: “our young people have a real concern for social issues. They often challenge us to look after the environment, speak out for the poor and needy and challenge racism. The project started with a reflection on the gospels and the call to reach out to the marginalized in our society. A number of the sessions focused on social justice and how as Christians we are called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. The group responded well to the challenge presented to them and after a talk from Ian Breen, the director of the local charity Acton Homeless Concern, they decided to go homeless for a day and to do a sponsored fast during this time.”

One of the local schools, St. Vincent Catholic Primary, offered their grounds on a Saturday and the group of 32 confirmation candidates, plus their catechists gave up their usual comforts and lived on the school grounds for the day.

Many of the young people found bits of cardboard to sit on or make temporary shelters so that they could gain a better understanding of what it must be like to be homeless.

Parish Priest, Fr. John Leahy, said he was really impressed by their efforts. He said: “the group have really thought about those who are marginalised in our society.”

The project, which was called, Cardboard City, raised over £1000 for Acton Homeless Concern.

Read the whole article here.

Catholics and Obama

The Tablet, the leading Catholic newspaper in the U.K., ran an interesting bit of analysis by David Gibson on Obama’s election:

Obama’s election is another important step towards what the Founding Fathers – all white men, many of them slaveowners – called “a more perfect union”. As Obama said in his speech on election day, “This victory alone is not the change we seek; it is only the chance for us to make that change.”

And that is where the path once again grows steep. Now the prophetic rhetoric gives way to the cold reality of a country that cannot afford a New Deal or a Great Society. But the challenges facing America are, historians say, every bit as grave as those that faced Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Depression, and the desire for fundamental change – Obama’s campaign mantra – as strong as that which coursed through America in the 1960s.

Additionally, the Pew Forum on Religion and Politics report How the Faithful Voted (5 Nov. 2008) said this about the Catholic vote:

Catholics, too, moved noticeably in a Democratic direction in 2008; overall, Catholics supported Obama over McCain by a nine-point margin (54% vs. 45%). By contrast, four years ago, Catholics favored Republican incumbent George W. Bush over Kerry by a five-point margin (52% to 47%).

Though precise figures are not available, early exit poll data suggests that Obama performed particularly well among Latino Catholics. Overall, the national exit poll shows that two-thirds of Latinos voted for Obama over McCain, a 13-point Democratic gain over estimates from the 2004 national exit poll. Meanwhile, Obama’s four-point gain among white Catholics (compared with their vote for Kerry) is smaller than the gain seen among Catholics overall. In fact, as in 2004, white Catholics once again favored the Republican candidate, though by a much smaller margin (13-point Republican advantage in 2004 vs. five-point advantage in 2008).

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