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Dan Nejfelt
Dan Nejfelt, Faith in Public Life’s Messaging and Trainings Manager, 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.

Catholic Bishops Rebuke Ryan Budget

April 17, 2012, 4:03 pm | By Dan Nejfelt

The drumbeat is building. Last week 59 Catholic theologians and social justice leaders rebuked Rep. Paul Ryan for arguing that his federal budget plan is consistent with Catholic social teaching. Today the US Conference of Catholic Bishops called out House Republicans for making harmful cuts that flout church teaching about protecting poor and vulnerable people. The Hill’s Jonathan Easley has the story:

In a letter to the House Agriculture Committee, the bishops say the budget fails to meet certain “moral criteria” by disproportionately cutting programs that “serve poor and vulnerable people.”

A second letter sent Tuesday to the Ways and Means Committee criticizes a provision that makes it more difficult for illegal immigrants to claim child tax credits. The Bishops called the credit “one of the most effective antipoverty programs in our nation.”

In their letter, the bishops urged lawmakers to reject “unacceptable cuts to hunger and nutrition” programs for “moral and human reasons.” They said spending cuts should instead be made to subsidy programs that “disproportionately go to large growers and agribusiness.”

Lawmakers should “protect essential programs that serve poor and hungry people over subsidies that assist large and relatively well-off agricultural enterprises,” said the letter, signed by Bishop Stephen E. Blaire.

“Cuts to nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment. These cuts are unjustified and wrong.”

This is a strong step toward holding lawmakers accountable for aggressively pushing a budget that brings more suffering for the poor, less security for the middle class, and more money for the richest Americans – especially in light of Rep. Paul Ryan’s attempt to justify this agenda on Catholic theological grounds.

It’s crucial for prominent leaders such as the bishops to speak out against this cruel, cowardly vision. As church leaders have demonstrated on other issues, they are capable of exerting considerable political pressure. Hopefully today’s letters to Congress presage a forceful campaign to rebuke the GOP’s immoral budget priorities.

This post has been updated to reflect an update of Easley’s story.

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Richard Land rebuked for racial rhetoric

April 16, 2012, 5:23 pm | By Dan Nejfelt

I was kind of shocked last week when Richard Land spoke at the Q Conference about the importance of civility in politics and public debates. Less than two weeks earlier he called leaders protesting the injustice of Trayvon Martin’s killing “race-hustlers” who were ginning up outrage to turn out the black vote, and accused President Obama of “pouring gasoline on the racialist fires” by addressing the controversy. Worse, Land inaccurately alleged that civil-rights leaders don’t protest black-on-black violence.

His comments exemplified many flavors of the cynicism and incivility that plague our discourse: racially coded language; false accusations; impugning other people’s motives; accusing others of divisiveness while engaging in it yourself; plain old name-calling. Perhaps this shouldn’t be that surprising, though, since Land apparently lifted his remarks rather directly from a right-wing columnist (without giving any credit).

Fortunately, Land is facing pushback from fellow Southern Baptist Convention leaders. The AP has the story:

Last year, the denomination for the first time elected a black pastor to its No. 2 position of first vice president, and the Rev. Fred Luter is expected to become the first black president of the Southern Baptist Convention at this year’s annual meeting in June.

When asked about the concern that Land’s comments hurt the effort to attract non-white members, Luter said, “It doesn’t help. That’s for sure.”

“I think his (Land’s) statements will reverse any gains from the rightful election of Fred Luter,” said the Rev. Dwight McKissic, a black pastor at the SBC-affiliated Cornerstone Baptist Church is Arlington, Texas.

McKissic said he plans to submit a resolution at the SBC’s annual meeting asking the convention to repudiate Land’s remarks.

“If they don’t, we’re back to where we were 50 years ago,” he said.

Jonathan Merritt, a white Southern Baptist minister whose book, “A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars” is due out this month, said Land’s comments turn off not only minorities, but also many young believers who are “disappointed with culture war Christianity and want to move beyond name-calling.”

Establishing civility across ideological divides is a difficult endeavor. It would be a lot easier if Land didn’t talk out of both sides of his mouth.

H/t Right Wing Watch.

UPDATE: In an interview with USA Today’s Cathy Lynn Grossman late yesterday afternoon, Land attempted to explain his failure to attribute his remarks to the columnist whose work he copied, and offered an apology of sorts for his remarks:

I obviously overestimated the extent of progress that has been made in slaying the racial dragon of our past. I should have remembered that whenever we have a discussion about race, the ghosts of our ancestors are in the room with us. And I underestimated the need to be extremely careful in how you address any controversial issue that involves race as a factor.

I am grieved that anyone would feel my comments have retarded in any way the Southern Baptists’ march toward racial reconciliation, which I have been committed to for the entirety of my ministry, since 1962.

I certainly apologize to anyone who was hurt or offended by my remarks.

While Land deserves some credit for trying to close the wound, his apology is incomplete. Rather than taking responsibility for his mean-spirited name-calling and accusations of ill intent, Land merely regrets being insufficiently sensitive to the feelings of those who are offended. Land wasn’t just tone-deaf though, he was actively accusing others of rank cynicism. But the most important part of an apology is whether it’s backed up with improved behavior. If Land refrains from such ugly rhetoric in the future, our discourse will be better off and he’ll deserve commendation.

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Bishops Still Giving Paul Ryan a Free Pass

April 12, 2012, 12:15 pm | By Dan Nejfelt

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

  1. Issued numerous press releases                                                    1. Sent Congress a letter
  2. Spoken on the record with countless reporters                                 2.  TBD
  3. Discussed it on Meet the Press and Face the Nation
  4. Ran full page ads in the New York Times and Washington Post
  5. Circulated bulletin inserts in parishes nationwide
  6. Preached about it in pulpits nationwide
  7. Organized fasts and rallies nationwide
  8. Aggressively lobbied the Obama administration
  9. Accused the Obama administration of unfair negotiating
  10. Testified at high-profile Congressional hearings
  11. Endorsed the ludicrous Blunt Amendment
  12. 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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Diverse pastors speak out on Trayvon Martin

April 11, 2012, 11:54 am | By Dan Nejfelt

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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Rick Warren, Paul Ryan and budget priorities

April 10, 2012, 3:27 pm | By Dan Nejfelt

Rick WarrenPolitical 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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