Dan Nejfelt, Faith in Public Life’s Senior Editor and Training Coordinator, worked at Sojourners magazine as part of his graduate study of journalism at the University of Missouri before coming to FPL. Prior to that, he taught remedial reading and writing to 7th and 8th graders in rural Arkansas as a Teach For America corps member. Dan blogs about health care, the Religious Right and budget issues.
Today the US Catholic bishops released a statement arguing in part that the contraception coverage mandate is part of a greater threat to religious liberty and exhorting Catholics to mount a massive “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign in response.
Meanwhile, they continue to shy away from the federal budget debate even though budget author Paul Ryan blew off their request that crucial safety net programs be preserved and is distorting church teaching by publicly defending his budget on Catholic theological grounds. If that doesn’t amount to thumbing his nose at the bishops, I don’t know what does.
But still they’ve said little. The disparity between their response to Ryan and their response to the contraception coverage rulings reflects their priorities and reveals just how much impact they could make. Here’s a primer on what they’ve done:
Contraception coverage mandate Ryan 2013 federal budget
- Issued numerous press releases 1. Sent Congress a letter
- Spoken on the record with countless reporters 2. TBD
- Discussed it on Meet the Press and Face the Nation
- Ran full page ads in the New York Times and Washington Post
- Circulated bulletin inserts in parishes nationwide
- Preached about it in pulpits nationwide
- Organized fasts and rallies nationwide
- Aggressively lobbied the Obama administration
- Accused the Obama administration of unfair negotiating
- Testified at high-profile Congressional hearings
- Endorsed the ludicrous Blunt Amendment
- Condemned specific policies in dismissive terms
The Catholic Church has always been a powerful leader in the fight to protect the most vulnerable, and in past decades (especially the 1980′s) Catholic bishops were at the forefront of debates over economic issues. Just last year they lobbied behind the scenes and were leaders in the Circle of Protection which publicly spoke out against immoral budget priorities.
But right now one of the most powerful Catholics in American politics is publicly claiming that church teaching says his plan to take food and health care away from millions of vulnerable Americans is the right thing to do — and the bishops are remaining silent.
Their all-out effort to make sure Catholic Taco Bell owners can deny their employees contraception coverage, by contrast, shows just how forceful they can be. As the moral debate about economic fairness and budget priorities takes center stage in the 2012 election, I hope they will summon their moral leadership to put some real resources and political capital into rejecting Paul Ryan’s cruel, cowardly agenda for America’s future.
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Two nationally prominent pastors — Joel Hunter of Northland Church in the Orlando area, and NAACP Vice President of Stakeholder Affairs Rev. Nelson Rivers III — have an op-ed in today’s Orlando Sentinel about the faith community’s role in addressing the many societal ills exposed by the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s killing, such as racial division, the devaluation of young black men, and our culture’s exaltation of violence. Here’s their conclusion:
…as the fallout of this tragedy shows, we don’t all mourn when the innocent die. National opinion polls, media sensationalism and offensive rhetoric reflect that the death of this young man has become a flashpoint for division rather than a call to reconciliation among too many Americans.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Not too long ago, lynchings were commonplace, entire towns were off-limits to people of color, and police brutally enforced segregation. But the Civil Rights Movement showed that the teachings of our faiths can foster the peace, love and courage that break down barriers, change people’s hearts and build a more just society.
We can bring about the day when being the wrong race in the wrong place at the wrong time isn’t a life-threatening circumstance. But progress will take an honest acknowledgement of how much work we have to do, and an earnest desire to do it. We owe Trayvon Martin and the countless others who are killed on our streets and in our communities every day our best effort. The teachings of our faith demand nothing less.
Having racially diverse clergy speak out as the tension escalates in the media and in the community where Trayvon was killed is important right now. Read the whole thing here.
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Political arguments over the last several days crystallized the contrasting worldviews in our economic debates. Last week President Obama forcefully deconstructed Rep. Paul Ryan’s federal budget proposal, calling it a “Trojan horse for a radical agenda” and “thinly veiled social Darwinism.” It’s an apt description, given that Ryan’s budget A) has $4.6 trillion in tax breaks that disproportionately benefit the wealthy, B) makes harsh, immediate cuts to protections that keep families out of destitution, and C) ultimately phases out most of the government’s capacity to protect the common good.
Then on Easter Sunday, ABC News aired an interview with Rick Warren of Saddleback Church (which provides much support for impoverished people), in which Warren echoed an argument Paul Ryan has made many times – that safety-net programs are ineffective and unwise because they create dependency that robs people of their dignity.
While such concerns might be well-intended, they’re overblown. The threat families face right now isn’t from a government encouraging complacency, it’s from a weak economy and conservative leaders trying to gut the safety net even if it causes people to suffer. Consider:
For every job opening in this country, there are four people looking for work. The problem isn’t a government that encourages idleness, it’s the fact that there aren’t enough jobs. And the GOP’s claim that this shortage is caused by “over-regulation” is baseless.
Private charity isn’t enough. As Ron Sider says in his new book, Fixing the Moral Deficit, the government provides 94% of funding of anti-hunger efforts, and each of America’s 325,000 religious congregations would have to contribute an additional $1.5 million to replace federal anti-poverty programs. That just isn’t feasible.
Key programs Paul Ryan cuts help struggling families avoid poverty, rather than trapping them in it. Food stamps and unemployment insurance help families who can’t find work get back on their feet, and both programs are efficient, stimulate the economy and create jobs.
The conventional wisdom that “welfare reform worked” is wrong. An important New York Times article this week illustrated that federal welfare reform has left many poor families in a state of desperation, and research shows that the Earned Income Tax Credit and the strong economy of the 1990s were primarily responsible for reducing poverty in the wake of welfare reform.
It’s important to spell these things out. Many people of good will who genuinely care about helping those less fortunate are appealed to by politicians who use reasonable-sounding arguments to make social Darwinism sound like social justice. But these claims just don’t hold water.
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The San Francisco Chronicle reported in a front-page story last weekend that hundreds of U.S. churches have gone into foreclosure in recent years. Several real estate research services quoted in the story each offered different estimates of how widespread church foreclosure has been, but the lower estimate said 270 have been sold by banks since 2010. Here’s more:
“Churches are full of members who lost jobs, who face home foreclosures themselves,” Jackson said. “Church is their place of refuge. If the refuge closes, they have no place to go.”
Financial issues span denominations but often are most acute for small to mid-size evangelical churches that are relatively new and are located in areas hard hit by the economic downturn.
They are not unlike struggling homeowners: When the economy was booming, some churches took on extra debt to expand, rehabilitate or move to larger spaces. Risky lending fueled the situation.
Once the recession hit, many cash-strapped parishioners moved or reduced their contributions, so church incomes were cut. At the same time, the real estate downturn meant religious properties were worth less, making them harder to refinance.
The story describes several congregations’ heartbreaking journeys from expansion to insolvency – some as a direct result of the economic collapse, others as a result of predatory lending practices by banks (which is hardly surprising, given the big banks’ record of preying on hard-hit families). These churches are losing not only the spaces where they worship, educate, baptize and eulogize, but also facilities where they provide crucial services to people at the margins, such as impoverished families, addicts, ex-offenders and the homeless. Losing a church building is a crisis for church members and the broader community alike.
This kind of compound trauma demonstrates why we need a robust safety net for struggling families during hard times. The economic crises that wreak havoc on the most vulnerable can also weaken churches’ capacity to provide care and support for them.
H/T to Philanthropy Today.
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Former Orlando Sentinel religion reporter Mark Pinsky had a column on CNN’s Belief Blog last week wrestling with an important question: “Where’s white church outrage over Trayvon Martin?”
Although the Florida Council of Churches, which includes many white clergy among its leadership, released a letter condemning the killing and calling for justice, and last night’s rally led by Rev. Al Sharpton in Sanford, FL, was reportedly a very multiracial event, there’s no denying that black clergy have not yet had strong public support from white clergy in the effort to bring Trayvon’s killer George Zimmerman to justice.
Few if any white clergy have spoken up to demand that the killing be fully investigated. None can be seen standing by the African-American preachers calling for justice, or marching with Martin’s family members. Why?
As someone who covered this area’s faith community for 15 years, I don’t think the answer is racism as much as it is cultural callousness. Week in and week out, the violent deaths and disappearances of poor, black and brown people – especially immigrants – merit a one- or two-paragraph story in The Orlando Sentinel’s (my old newspaper’s) police blotter. So when a middle-class black teen is gunned down, the reaction tends to be a shrug of the shoulders.
In other words, different racial groups’ radically divergent experiences with violent crime and the justice system creates insularity in the white community that inhibits true empathy. I don’t mean to overgeneralize here. There are certainly other explanations for various individual faith leaders. For instance, yesterday I spoke to an Orlando-area white pastor who is concerned and outraged but has been traveling abroad for all month. And I can’t act holier than thou. There have been 104 murders in DC over the last 12 months, and I don’t know any of the victims’ names, and all I really remember is that the victims are disproportionately young black men gunned down in Wards 5, 7 and 8.
But I’ve thought a lot about Trayvon’s death. What was his last thought? How bad was the pain? Could he feel God by his side as his life faded away? Why on earth is his killer walking free? I hope those of us – clergy and laypeople alike – who in the past haven’t noticed tragedies like Trayvon’s will be changed by this miscarriage of justice. We won’t solve the racism of our criminal justice system and our culture until we realize that it’s everyone’s problem.
Read the rest of Mark’s column here.
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