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November 21, 2007, 11:52 am | By Beth Dahlman

Every blog needs the Thanksgiving, “What I’m thankful for,” post right?

We think so.

Turns out, this is easier said than done.

Of course, I’m thankful for so many things, but expressing it in the humble medium of a blog has some challenges. Picking a style, for example.

There’s (my usual default ) somewhat sarcastic humor: “I’m thankful for Pat Robertson and the Family Research Council” (every good cause deserves a foil).

There’s the true-but-with-political-overtones: “I’m thankful that I live in a country (mostly) free of war and natural disaster”

And of course the towing-the-company-line: “I’m thankful that faith voices for justice and the common good are finally getting recognized in the media and in the political process.”

And finally there’s generic: “I’m thankful for my health, my faith, my family and my friends.”

I am thankful for all of those things, and maybe, if I was a better writer/advocate/theologian I could find a way to weave them all together into the World’s Best Thanksgiving Day Message and leave you all in tears. But I can’t. At least, I haven’t been able to yet.

But, even as I sit here trying to write something I am overcome with what a wonderful problem this is to have.

My profound statement of gratitude for all I have and heartbreak over the times I haven’t appreciated it might not be one for the history books, but I’m glad I got the chance to try.

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Culture War Watch: Veto Edition

November 15, 2007, 11:35 am | By Beth Dahlman

I hear the “unborn” have been lobbying hard for a flat tax too While one might not see the connection immediately, the low taxes=pro-life formula soon becomes stunningly obvious after you talk to some prominent “pro-life” leaders. Which is why the President and several “pro-life” politicians are bravely blocking expanded access to children’s health insurance and why President Bush also vetoed an appropriations bill containing a breakthrough pro-choice/pro-life common ground abortion reduction measure.

The Real Spirit of Christmas: Saying the word “Christmas”

The Liberty Council is protecting the Christmas message of peace and hope by encouraging Christians to shop at Wal-Mart. The retail giant is on the conservative group’s “nice list” this year. What earned it such a prestigious designation? Certainly not making their employee health-care plans more accessible; the Liberty Council is looking out for what really matters like having a “Christmas Central” section on your website and peddling Jesus action figures.

No Thanks, Archbishop, I think the U.S. is going to stick with Iran, China and North Korea on this whole “capital punishment” thing.

Desmond Tutu has called for a global ban on the death penalty.

They Don’t Like the Death Penalty Either The U.S. Catholic Bishops approved a document affirming traditional church teaching on issues like abortion, the death penalty, poverty and immigration, but avoids setting up partisan litmus tests for voting behavior.

Scorecard: The Bishops’ statement is a pretty significant achievement for the Common Do-Gooders. Do all people with a Common Good agenda agree with the bishops on every issue? Definitely not. Within the broader community there is principled debate on those hot-button issues. However, the emphasis on conscience in the Bishops’ doc moves things in the right direction and hopefully will help diffuse some of the “wafer wars” we’ve seen in past election cycles. However, Culture War Watch is giving this week to the Culture Warriors just to see how long they can drag out this ridiculous War on Christmas nonsense.

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Catholic Bishops on “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”

November 14, 2007, 3:08 pm | By Beth Dahlman

The updated document on Catholic participation in public life was made public today by the U.S. Catholic Bishop’s Conference. Anything that the bishops put out usually gets a good amount of attention, so I won’t spend too much space right now pontificating (pun intended) on its significance. The quick and dirty summary: not bad.

The document (and the shorter summary) put forward a very mainstream vision of Catholic political thought and the common good. Attempts by certain conservative bishops (Burke) to steer the Conference rightward appear to have been thwarted.

Indeed, partisans on both sides of the aisle are likely to be alternatively delighted and disappointed by the statement which highlights the primacy of issues like abortion, stem cell research, poverty, immigration and torture for Catholics while affirming that Catholics should not be “single issue voters.”

Many Catholics, myself included, have often struggled with how to make political sense out of Church teaching. If nothing else, this document seems to affirm that challenge and the many directions one’s conscience might take in trying to solve it.

Below is an excerpt from the statement’s introduction:

As a nation, we share many blessings and strengths, including a tradition of religious

freedom and political participation. However, as a people, we face serious challenges that are

clearly political and also profoundly moral.

We are a nation founded on “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but the right to

life itself is not fully protected, especially for unborn children, the most vulnerable members of

the American family. We are called to be peacemakers in a nation at war. We are a country

pledged to pursue “liberty and justice for all,” but we are too often divided across lines of race,

ethnicity, and economic inequality. We are a nation of immigrants, struggling to address the

challenges of many new immigrants in our midst. We are a society built on the strength of our

families, called to defend marriage and offer moral and economic supports for family life. We

are a powerful nation in a violent world, confronting terror and trying to build a safer, more just,

more peaceful world. We are an affluent society where too many live in poverty and lack health

care and other necessities of life. We are part of a global community facing urgent threats to the

environment that must sustain us. These challenges are at the heart of public life and at the center

of the pursuit of the common good.

…In this statement, we bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom

to vote. Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth.

We recognize that the responsibility to make choices in political life rests with each individual in

light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a

particular election.

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Sincerity vs Power

November 8, 2007, 4:46 pm | By Beth Dahlman

It’s been a big month for religion and politics news. Story after story has sounded the death knell for the Religious Right, noting the divergent political alliances of its traditional leadership and the expanding priorities of the Evangelical grassroots.

But is this “evangelical divide” really so new? I don’t think so. Until recently, “evangelical” has, unfortunately, been used as a term synonymous with “Christian right,” when, in fact, there has always been a significant difference between these groups. But in the media coverage of who’s endorsing whom, this distinction, with a few exceptions, rarely rises to the surface. It’s not about Giuliani vs. McCain vs. Romney vs. Huckabee. It’s about sincerity vs. power, who’s trying to make their politics conform to their faith and who’s preying on minority groups (gay men and lesbians, Muslims) to further consolidate their elite status.

The “new generation” of Evangelical leaders taking action on issues like poverty and the environment are not staging some kind of religious rebellion but rather are following their religious commitments to their natural ends. It is simply impossible to read the Bible without getting the idea that God cares about the poor.

On the other hand, the “old guard” has been desperately trying to figure out a way to hold on to the power it’s enjoyed for the last 8 years. For some this means forming a third party to protest the imperfection of the GOP primary candiates. For others, it is rallying around the most “electable” Republican, ditching the old hot button issues and zeroing in on a new target.

So, is all this “disarray” a good thing? On the whole, I think so. I am delighted that the “new” Evangelical priorities are finally getting media coverage, and I think the chaos within the old leadership might let some more leaders with a common good agenda break through. However, groups with power rarely surrender it nicely. While gay rights and abortion may be loosing their wedge issue appeal, railing against “islamofascism” (and Islam itself) is gaining in popularity among Religious Right heavy hitters.

Sincere people of faith should notice this trend and decide to do something about it. Of course the United States and the global community need to address the threats of war and terrorism. But stirring up Islamophobia in the process is offensive to the vast majority of Muslims who embrace peace, and counter-productive in the interest of global security.

As figures like Robertson feel their base of power slipping beneath them, lets make sure they don’t try to take our Muslim brothers and sisters down with them.

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Culture War Watch: Election Wrap-up Edition

November 7, 2007, 2:01 pm | By Beth Dahlman

Apparently, there are elections in odd years too. Decision 2007′s impact on the culture wars and more:

Gov. Replaces ethics, good government with framed pieces of paper on easels; Voters shockingly unimpressed.

Kentucky governor Ernie Fletcher’s re-election bid met defeat yesterday. Apparently, installing a few pieces of paper in the capitol rotunda and deploying gay-baiting robo-calls days before the election are not enough to convince Kentucky voters you are the “values” candidate. Voters in that state seem to prefer someone who hasn’t been indicted.

A Vote for Romney is a Vote for Satan

At least, televangelist Bill Keller thinks so. Culture War Watch really wanted to find a way to point out the fundamental wrongness of this statement, ideally calling attention to the danger both the Church and our American democracy face if this kind of world view becomes widely accepted, but Keller’s logic “[Romney] would influence people to seek out the Mormon faith…They would get sucked into those lies and they would eventually die and go to hell” and fashion sense “[Keller] was dressed in a red and black Michael Jordan tracksuit, with the zipper lowered halfway down his bare chest” are simply above reproach.

Pat Robertson attempts to stay relevant

By endorsing Rudy Giuliani.

This Week’s Scorecard: At first glance, it seems like the Culture Warriors have this week all wrapped up, but a second look reveals surprising gains by the Common Do-Gooders. After all, Gov. Fletcher’s culture war stoking strategy failed miserably. (He probably would have benefited from the new efforts from We Believe Ohio and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good calling for clean campaigning). And while any mention of Pat Robertson tends to score points for the Culture Warriors, this time he only seems to underscore how traditional culture war issues are becoming more and more irrelevant. Give this week to the Common Do-Gooders.

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