Kristof: Catholic Nuns as our Best Superheroes

Transform Now Christian anti-nuclear activists, including Sr. Megan Rice (illustration by Jeffrey Smith)

Nicholas Kristof wrote a great column in the NYT on Saturday about American Catholic sisters. Part of his op-ed focuses on Sr. Megan Rice, age 82, who is spending 3 year in the federal pen for exposing U.S. nuclear hypocrisy. Watch for Dan Zak’s new book coming out about “The Prophets of Oak Ridge,” including Sr. Megan. (Editor’s note: This Washington Post article series by Dan Zak should be a required Bible study for all U.S. Christians.)

Here’s an excerpt from Kristof’s column:

IN an age of villainy, war and inequality, it makes sense that we need superheroes. And after trying Superman, Batman and Spider-Man, we may have found the best superheroes yet: Nuns.

“I may not believe in God, but I do believe in nuns,” writes Jo Piazza, in her forthcoming book, “If Nuns Ruled the World.” Piazza is an agnostic living in New York City who began interviewing nuns and found herself utterly charmed and inspired.

“They eschew the spotlight by their very nature, and yet they’re out there in the world every day, living the Gospel and caring for the poor,” Piazza writes. “They don’t hide behind fancy and expensive vestments, a pulpit, or a sermon. I have never met a nun who rides a Mercedes-Benz or a Cadillac. They walk a lot; they ride bikes.”

One of the most erroneous caricatures of nuns is that they are prim, Victorian figures cloistered in convents. On the contrary, I’ve become a huge fan of nuns because I see them so often risking their lives around the world, confronting warlords, pimps and thugs, while speaking the local languages fluently. In a selfish world, they epitomize selflessness and compassion.

There are also plenty of formidable nuns whom even warlords don’t want to mess with, who combine reverence with ferocity, who defy the Roman Catholic Church by handing out condoms to prostitutes to protect them from H.I.V. (They surely don’t mention that to the bishops.)

One of the nuns whom Piazza profiles is Sister Megan Rice. She earned a graduate degree at Boston College and then moved to Nigeria in 1962 to run a school for girls she had helped establish in a remote area with no electricity or running water. After eventually returning to the United States, she began campaigning against nuclear weapons.

In 2012, at the age of 82, she masterminded a break-in of a nuclear complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., to call attention to the nuclear threat. As she was handcuffed by armed security guards, she sang “This Little Light of Mine.” She is now serving a prison sentence of almost three years.

Read the whole article here.

Natasha Trethewey, New U.S. Poet Laureate

It always lifts my spirits when we announce a new national poet laureate. My sense is that Ms. Trethewey will take to the position like Robert Pinsky did when he launched the Favorite Poem Project. I love Trethewey’s line from “Kitchen Maid with Supper at Emmaus, or The Mulata“:

…She is echo
of Jesus at table, framed in the scene behind her:
his white corona, her white cap. Listening, she leans
into what she knows. …

Charles McGrath writes in The New York Times:

The Library of Congress is to announce Thursday that the next poet laureate is Natasha Trethewey, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of three collections and a professor of creative writing at Emory University in Atlanta. Ms. Trethewey, 46, was born in Gulfport, Miss., and is the first Southerner to hold the post since Robert Penn Warren, the original laureate, and the first African-American since Rita Dove in 1993. “I’m still a little in disbelief,” Ms. Trethewey said on Monday.

Unlike the recent laureates W. S. Merwin and her immediate predecessor, Philip Levine, both in their 80s when appointed, Ms. Trethewey, who will officially take up her duties in September, is still in midcareer and not well-known outside poetry circles. Her work combines free verse with more traditional forms like the sonnet and the villanelle to explore memory and the racial legacy of America. Her fourth collection, “Thrall,” is scheduled to appear in the fall. She is also the author of a 2010 nonfiction book, “Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

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.

NYT Runs Obit for Catholic Theologian Isasi-Díaz

Finally (!)  The New York Times has run an obituary for Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz. My memorial for Ada will run in the July issue of Sojourners (at the printer now). Here’s a portion of Paul Vitello’s NYT article:

In part, Dr. Isasi-Díaz conceived of Mujerista, or “womanist” theology (from the Spanish word mujer, for woman), to distinguish her ideas from those of feminism — a term “rejected by many in the Hispanic community,” she wrote in 1989, “because they consider feminism a preoccupation of white, Anglo women.” She hoped that “Mujerism,” which she considered a spiritual branch of the reform movement known as liberation theology, would help delineate the special community of need and identity shared by poor, Hispanic, Catholic women.

“Hispanic women widely agree that, though we make up the vast majority of those who participate in the work of the churches, we do not participate in deciding what work is to be done,” she wrote in a 1989 article in Christian Century, titled “Mujeristas: A Name of Our Own!”

“We do the praying, but our understanding of the God to whom we pray is ignored.” Dr. Isasi-Díaz argued that poor women, by the nature of their roles in their families and communities, “exercised their moral agency in the world” more profoundly than any other group of the faithful. They did that in the small daily choices they made, she said: between bus fare and a 40-block walk to work, for instance; or between breakfast for oneself or one’s child. Those choices embodied immense moral power, and deserved to be honored in the form of greater roles for those women in their church.

Read the whole article.

Guantanamo: ‘If I Had My Way, I’d Tear This Building Down’

Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo Bay Indefinite Detention Center, January 2012
Blind Willie Johnson had it right back in 1927 when he sang, “If I had my way, I’d tear this building down.” The U.S. concentration camps on Guantanamo Bay turn 10 years old on Wednesday. As Americans — and as people of faith — we should tear those buildings down.

I’m not naive about who some of the prisoners are being held there. But if there’s one thing the U.S. does extremely well, it’s prisons. We’ve got lots of them. There’s no reason why the men and boys held at Guantanamo can’t be moved into stateside prisons – military or civilian – and held accountable under a clear rule of law.

I want to be part of the civilian team of Americans — with families of international victims — who come to Guantanamo this year with hammers in our hands. It is time to dismantle these concentration camps.

Read below for Abraham’s haggling with God about punishing the innocent with the guilty and further down read Murat Kurnaz’ reflections five years after his release from Guantanamo.

Abraham approached the Lord and asked, “Are you really going to destroy the innocent with the guilty? If there are fifty innocent people in the city, will you destroy the whole city? Won’t you spare it in order to save the fifty? Surely you won’t kill the innocent with the guilty. That’s impossible! You can’t do that. If you did, the innocent would be punished along with the guilty. That is impossible. The judge of all the earth has to act justly.” –Genesis 18:23-25

I left Guantánamo Bay much as I had arrived almost five years earlier – shackled hand-to-waist, waist-to-ankles, and ankles to a bolt on the airplane floor. My ears and eyes were goggled, my head hooded, and even though I was the only detainee on the flight this time, I was drugged and guarded by at least 10 soldiers. This time though, my jumpsuit was American denim rather than Guantánamo orange. I later learned that my C-17 military flight from Guantánamo to Ramstein Air Base in my home country, Germany, cost more than $1 million.

When we landed, the American officers unshackled me before they handed me over to a delegation of German officials. The American officer offered to re-shackle my wrists with a fresh, plastic pair. But the commanding German officer strongly refused: “He has committed no crime; here, he is a free man.”

I was not a strong secondary school student in Bremen, but I remember learning that after World War II, the Americans insisted on a trial for war criminals at Nuremberg, and that event helped turn Germany into a democratic country. Strange, I thought, as I stood on the tarmac watching the Germans teach the Americans a basic lesson about the rule of law.

How did I arrive at this point? This Wednesday is the 10th anniversary of the opening of the detention camp at the American naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. I am not a terrorist. I have never been a member of Al Qaeda or supported them. I don’t even understand their ideas. ….

… a number of American and German intelligence documents from 2002 to 2004 [that] showed both countries suspected I was innocent. One of the documents said American military guards thought I was dangerous because I had prayed during the American national anthem.

Now, five years after my release, I am trying to put my terrible memories behind me. I have remarried and have a beautiful baby daughter. Still, it is hard not to think about my time at Guantánamo and to wonder how it is possible that a democratic government can detain people in intolerable conditions and without a fair trial.

New York Times (8 January 2012) Notes from a Guantanamo Survivor by Murat Kurnaz

‘If Penn State Was the Catholic Church’: Paterno, Sandusky, and Raping Boys

Certainly more people watch Penn State football than listen to Vatican pronouncements. But insular, all-male institutions that operate on principles of domination foster a culture of cognitive dissonance where paradoxical things are held to be true, e.g. “I am an upright and moral defensive coordinator for a winning team and I sexually molest boys” or “I am a good Catholic, successful coach, who works with good people and whatever’s going on in the showers is none of my business.”

Jerry Sandusky, former defensive coordinator for Penn State is charged with multiple counts of deviant sexual acts with at least eight male minors — most under age 12. But around a long-term child sexual abuser is always a complicit community. As Mark Esposito writes in this case it was made up of “university administrators who did nothing despite horrific credible eyewitness accounts of explicit sexual acts in locker rooms and showers.” And we end up with “Disadvantaged kids taken advantage of by an authority figure who founded an organization ostensibly to help them, but apparently designed to fulfill his own aberrational desires.”

Child molesters don’t see themselves as sexual predators. They most often see themselves as regular folks who love kids and want to help them and whose affinity for children just happens to have a sexual element. Then, under stress, their need to satisfy that sexual urge compels them to take an action which they convince themselves isn’t such a big deal. They hardly ever believe that they are harming children – and often believe they are helping them.

Fixated child molesters exist – in small numbers, but they exist. However, the rest of us often participate in cultures and emotional habits that protect them and those practices can be dismantled. Those narratives that we create of “protecting the greater good” or “he’s such a nice guy” or “to make a great Penn State omelet a few eggs gotta get broken” must be dismantled.

Jonathan Mahler’s New York Times article Joe Paterno’s Grand Experiment Meets an Inglorious End explores the willful blindness that we all must guard against.

… using the term “scandal” to describe what went on at Penn State, where a former defensive coordinator under Paterno, Jerry Sandusky, stands accused of molesting several boys over 15 years, seems to diminish it.

In the world of big-time college sports, the term has been cheapened by overuse. If these allegations prove to be true — Sandusky has maintained his innocence — they’ll be a far cry from football players’ trading memorabilia for discounts on their tattoos.

A better comparison would be the sexual molestation scandals that rocked another insular, all-male institution, the Roman Catholic Church.

The parallels are too striking to ignore. A suspected predator who exploits his position to take advantage of his young charges. The trusting colleagues who don’t want to believe it — and so don’t.

Even confronted with convincing proof, they choose to protect their institution’s reputation. In the face of a moral imperative to act, there is silence.

This was the dynamic that pervaded the Catholic clerical culture during its sexual abuse scandals, and it seems to have been no less pervasive at Penn State.

Where does Paterno fit in?

If Penn State was the Catholic Church, Paterno was the Holy See of Happy Valley. Unlike two other top university officials implicated in the scandal, he has not been charged with a crime. But he is almost certainly guilty of cowardice and hypocrisy.

When a distraught graduate assistant told Paterno in 2002 that he had seen Sandusky with a boy in the locker-room showers, Paterno reported the incident to the athletic director but did nothing further, according to the grand jury statement. In other words, the great molder of young men discharged his legal obligation and moved on.

To be clear, this happened in 2002, when the Catholic Church sex scandals were front-page news just about every day. As a practicing Catholic himself, Paterno must have been following them; he was probably even pained by them.

Of course, Paterno did have other things on his mind. The Nittany Lions were coming off a dismal season and he was fighting off the first calls for his retirement.

With his effective silence, Paterno was protecting not only himself but also 50 years of mythology that had been building up around him since he arrived at Penn State as an assistant during the Truman administration.

On Three Continents, Catholic Priests Challenge Vatican on Women’s Ordination

Fr. Roy Bourgeois, MM

More than 150 Roman Catholic priests in the United States have signed a statement in support of a fellow cleric Roy Bourgeois, who faces dismissal for participating in a ceremony ordaining a woman as a Catholic priest, in defiance of church teaching.

More than 300 priests and deacons in Austria – representing 15% of Catholic clerics in that country – last month issued a “Call to Disobedience,” which stunned their bishops with a seven-point pledge that includes actively promoting priesthood for women and married men, and reciting a public prayer for “church reform” in every Mass.

And in Australia, the National Council of Priests recently released a ringing defense of William Morris, the bishop of Toowoomba, who had issued a pastoral letter saying that, facing a severe priest shortage, he would ordain women and married men “if Rome would allow it.”

In the 22 July 2011 New York Times, Laurie Goodstein writes:

While these disparate acts hardly amount to a clerical uprising and are unlikely to result in change, church scholars note that for the first time in years, groups of priests in several countries are standing with those who are challenging the church to rethink the all-male celibate priesthood.

The Vatican has declared that the issue of women’s ordination is not open for discussion. But priests are on the front line of the clergy shortage — stretched thin and serving multiple parishes — and in part, this is what is driving some of them to speak.

A press release from Call to Action spells the whole situation out more clearly. In an unprecedented move, 157 Catholic priests have signed on to a letter in support of their fellow embattled priest, Fr. Roy Bourgeois, who has been told to recant his support for women’s ordination or be removed from the priesthood. The letter that supports Roy’s priesthood and his right to conscience was delivered, Friday, July 22nd, to Fr. Edward Dougherty, Superior General of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in Maryknoll, NY.

“We can no longer remain silent while priests and even bishops are removed from their posts simply because they choose to speak their truth,” said Fr. Fred Daley, a spokesperson of the effort and a priest of the Syracuse Diocese. “Together, we are standing up for our brother priest, Roy, and for all clergy who have felt afraid to speak up on matters of conscience. “We hope that our support as ordained priests in good standing will help give Fr. Dougherty the support he needs to make a decision that is fair and just.”

This stance of priests from the United States follows a series of recent actions where priests collectively have taken a stand for justice in the Church.  Last year, priests in Ireland formed a union aimed at organizing the 6,500 priests there in response to the clergy abuse crisis.

Continue reading “On Three Continents, Catholic Priests Challenge Vatican on Women’s Ordination”

St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix: ‘Catholic’ is More than a Name

Sister Margaret McBride, RSM

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s ran an excellent column yesterday on the rival religious approaches within the Catholic church. One approach focuses on dogma, sanctity, rules, and punishment of sinners. The other lifts up compassion for the needy, mercy for sinners, and a profligate invitation to the least, the lost, the left out.

Examining the battle between Phoenix’s Bishop Olmsted and St. Joseph’s Catholic hospital – particularly Sr. Margaret McBride, in Tussling Over Jesus, Kristof says:

The thought that keeps nagging at me is this: If you look at Bishop Olmsted and Sister Margaret as the protagonists in this battle, one of them truly seems to me to have emulated the life of Jesus. And it’s not the bishop, who has spent much of his adult life as a Vatican bureaucrat climbing the career ladder. It’s Sister Margaret, who like so many nuns has toiled for decades on behalf of the neediest and sickest among us. Then along comes Bishop Olmsted to excommunicate the Christ-like figure in our story. If Jesus were around today, he might sue the bishop for defamation.

There is nothing new in this dynamic. It’s the yin and yang of the world. Conservatives preserve institutions so that there is a mechanism for advancement from one generation to the next. Liberals draw from an original animating spirit and push the edges of what currently exists in order to allow it to fulfill it’s purpose in the present. In other words, liberals will say If the church isn’t truly the church in the here and now, then what good is it. And conservatives will say, If we don’t have a core belief system that is clear and transferable from one generation to the next then what good is it just acting on what we feel in the here and now.

The trouble is that conservatives tend to consolidate power and then that power bloc needs to be pushed back on so that it doesn’t become a dry and lifeless shell. St. Joseph’s Catholic hospital is one example of many where Catholics are pushing back. Kristoff writes:

Bishop Olmsted initially excommunicated a nun, Sister Margaret McBride, who had been on the hospital’s ethics committee and had approved of the decision [to terminate a pregnancy to save the life of the mother]. That seems to have been a failed attempt to bully the hospital into submission, but it refused to cave and continues to employ Sister Margaret. Now the bishop, in effect, is excommunicating the entire hospital — all because it saved a woman’s life.

Make no mistake: This clash of values is a bellwether of a profound disagreement that is playing out at many Catholic hospitals around the country. These hospitals are part of the backbone of American health care, amounting to 15 percent of hospital beds. Already in Bend, Ore., last year, a bishop ended the church’s official relationship with St. Charles Medical Center for making tubal ligation sterilizations available to women who requested them. And two Catholic hospitals in Texas halted tubal ligations at the insistence of the local bishop in Tyler.

The National Women’s Law Center has just issued a report quoting doctors at Catholic-affiliated hospitals as saying that sometimes they are forced by church doctrine to provide substandard care to women with miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies in ways that can leave the women infertile or even endanger their lives. More clashes are likely as the church hierarchy grows more conservative, and as hospitals and laity grow more impatient with bishops who seem increasingly out of touch.

Apparently, Bishop Olmsted thought that by excommunicating Sr. McBride – a Sister of Mercy – and then effectively excommunicating the hospital itself so that Mass can no longer be celebrated in the hospital chapel that he could somehow make the hospital “unCatholic.” What he fails to realize is that it’s not the name that makes the hospital Catholic, it’s the people serving in the ministry of Jesus and the tradition of the saints. Linda Hunt, the president of St. Joseph’s said, “St. Joseph’s will continue through our words and deeds to carry out the healing ministry of Jesus. Our operations, policies, and procedures will not change.”

Many ordinary Catholics have reached a breaking point and St. Joseph’s heralds a new vision of Catholicism. As Jamie Manson writing in the National Catholic Reporter put it: “Though [St. Joseph’s hospital] will be denied the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist, the Eucharist will rise out of St. Joseph’s every time the sick are healed, the frightened are comforted, the lonely are visited, the weak are fed, and vigil is kept over the dying.”

Obama on Hip Hop and the Role of Art in Social Movements

I heard this quote sampled on WPFW, the local Pacifica station, last night during the Soul Controllers hip-hop show. It’s from a 2008 interview that then-Senator Obama gave on Black Entertainment Television.

“I love the art of hip-hop; I don’t always love the message of hip-hop. There are times where even . . . with the artists I love, you know, there’s a message that is not only sometimes degrading to women; not only uses the N-word a little too frequently; but — also something I’m really concerned about — it’s always talking about material things. Always talking about how I can get something. … The thing about hip hop today is that it’s smart. It’s insightful. The way that they can communicate a complex message in a very short space is remarkable.

A lot of these kids are not going to be reading The New York Times. That’s not how they are getting their information. So the question then is what’s the content, what’s the message? I understand that folk want to be rooted in the community, they want to be ‘down.’ But what I always say is that hip hop is not just a mirror of what is, it should also be a reflection of what can be. A lot of time folks say ‘I want to keep it real’ and ‘I want to be down.’ Then we’re just attracting what is. Imagine something different. Imagine communities that are not torn up by violence. Imagine communities where we are respecting women. Imagine communities where knowledge, and reading, and academic excellence are valued. Imagine communities where fathers are doing right by their kids. That’s also something that has to be reflected. Art can’t just be a rear view mirror. It should have a headlight out there pointing to where we need to go.”–President “B-Rock” Obama

Watch the video here.

“CO2 is Green”: More Big Oil Propaganda

Big oil and big coal are worried about the upcoming climate change legislation. They’re especially worried about what it will do to their bottom line. So worried, in fact, they’re willing to set up faux non-profits to try to “educate” us into believing rising levels of CO2 are okay – and that the overwhelming consensus of the world’s scientific community is wrong.

Some might call that a difference of opinion – but really, it’s just propaganda for profit.

The front group “CO2 is Green” launched an advertising campaign this week with a half-page ad in The Washington Post urging people to pressure their senators to vote against the Senate’s “cap and trade” bill because, the ad says, “The bill is based on the false premise that man-made CO2 is a major cause of climate change.”

Anne Mulkern, who writes for Greenwire, has a great article in the NYT about the fossil fuel industry’s latest foray into wishful thinking:

“CO2 is Green spokesman H. Leighton Steward sits on the board of directors of EOG Resources Inc., an oil and natural gas development company. He also is an honorary director at the industry trade group American Petroleum Institute, according to a biography on EOG’s website. …”

EOG Resources goes farther to describe Mr. Steward, a graduate of Southern Methodist University, as:

“former Chairman of the U.S. Oil and Gas Association and the Natural Gas Supply Association … and currently an author-partner of Sugar Busters, LLC, a provider of seminars, books and products related to helping people follow a healthy and nutritious lifestyle, and Chairman of the non-profit foundations Plants Need CO2 and CO2 Is Green, providers of information related to carbon dioxide’s impact on the global climate and the plant and animal kingdoms.”

Additionally, David Di Martino, a spokesperson for Clean Energy Works, a coalition of about 80 faith and environmental groups who support climate legislation, told Mulkern, “CO2 is Green is bankrolled by Corbin J. Robinson, chief executive of and leading shareholder in Natural Resource Partners, a Houston-based owner of coal resources.”

According to a Mother Jones article from September 2009, “Natural Resource Partners is also a member of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), the scandal-plagued coal front group currently under investigation for its role in the forged letters sent to members of Congress criticizing the House climate bill.”

Steven Mufson at The Washington Post also wrote about these guys in back in September 2009, saying:

Steward has joined forces with Corbin J. Robertson Jr., chief executive of and leading shareholder in Natural Resource Partners, a Houston-based owner of coal resources that lets other companies mine in return for royalties. Its revenues were $291 million in 2008. They have formed two groups — CO2 Is Green designated for advocacy and Plants Need CO2 for education — with about $1 million. Plants Need CO2 has applied for 501(c)(3) tax status, so that contributions would qualify as charitable donations, said Natural Resource Partners general counsel Wyatt L. Hogan, who also serves on the group’s board.

(If you want to read more on the “populist” uprisings against climate change regulation and who’s bankrolling  them, see Greenpeace’s excellent report “Koch Industries Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine”.)

So it looks like the oil, coal, and natural gas corporations have developed two new front organizations: “Plants Need CO2” is the 501-c-3 (education) nonprofit and “CO2 is Green” is the 501-c-4 (advocacy) nonprofit.

These two “not-for-profit” organizations are rolling out propaganda advertisements that are bankrolled by oil company profits (“I’m not getting a penny for this,” said Steward, who said he owned oil company stocks but no coal stocks, according to the Washington Post. “It’s just something I thought people should know.”) in order to influence votes in the Senate on climate legislation that will directly impact the financial bottom line of those same oil companies.

There is something wrong with that. Maybe it’s the “lying to people for profit” -angle.

In the interest of using this column to educate rather than obfuscate, however, let’s quickly review the climate change facts as laid out by the world’s best scientists (see The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007 report):

1. “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” (It’s happening.)

2. “Global atmospheric concentrations of CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750.” (It’s happening because of high concentrations of CO2.)

3. “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic [human-induced] greenhouse gas concentrations.” (It’s happening mostly because of  CO2 waste produced by us, not trees.)

4. “Anthropogenic warming could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible.” (It’s happening and if we don’t do something we are really, uh, up a galaxy without a planet.)

5. “A wide array of adaptation options is available, but more extensive adaptation than is currently occurring is required to reduce vulnerability to climate change.” (It’s happening and we could do something to slow it down, but our most effective legislative options are being eaten away by the greed of the energy companies.)

Let me be clear. I’m sure that Mr. Steward and Mr. Robinson feel morally justified in what they are doing. I’m sure that they deeply believe that they are correct in informing the public to their way of thinking. But that is why we have ethical codes, particularly business ethics, to safeguard the societal common good from the egoistic self-interest of the corporate few.

If energy, oil, and coal companies – and the people who run them – want to critique climate change legislation, then let them do it openly – not from behind a curtain of green smoke. I suggest they fund a new ad for The Washington Post:

“Climate change is not our problem — satisfying our stockholders is. Won’t you vote ‘no’ on climate change legislation? Because when Papa’s happy, everybody’s happy.” This ad is brought to you and paid for by Big Oil and Sons.

Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor at Sojourners, blogs at She’s the author of Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood available at

Senate’s climate change legislation (Kerry-Lieberman bill)
Ads Backed By Fossil-Fuel Interests Argue “CO2 is Green by Anne Mulkern
C02 is Green
Ad in The Washington Post
EOG Resources
Plants Need CO2
Clean Energy Works
New Front Group: CO2 is Green by Kate Sheppard, Mother Jones
American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (motto: “Clean Coal USA”)
New Groups Revive the Debate Over Causes of Climate Change by Steve Mufson
Koch Industries Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine, Greenpeace
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007 report