Much of our nation’s political polarization boils down to a fundamental moral disagreement over the role of government. On the one hand, most Americans believe government has a responsibility to help ensure a basic level of opportunity and security for all Americans. On the other, the Tea Party thinks shrinking the government and lowering taxes for the richest Americans is more important than protecting families.
In the latest example of this conflict, conservatives in Congress pushed us to the brink of yet another federal government shutdown this week. FEMA came within days of running out of money to help communities devastated by tornadoes, floods and wildfires because House Republicans held disaster relief funds hostage to cuts that even the US Chamber of Commerce said would cost 45,000 jobs.
And while Tea Partiers pledge allegiance to small government and individual liberty, they haven’t applied these principles to the government’s most overwhelming power over citizens – capital punishment.
The death penalty returned to the headlines earlier this month when the audience at a GOP presidential debate broke into spontaneous applause after the moderator mentioned the 234 executions Rick Perry approved as governor of Texas. Perry, a Tea Party favorite, called it “the ultimate justice.” And the issue gained worldwide attention last week when Troy Davis was executed despite a global outcry and serious doubt about his guilt.
The moral case against capital punishment is overwhelming. It does not deter crime. Courts disproportionately sentence minorities to death. More than 100 people on death row have been exonerated, revealing the system’s glaring inability to sentence only the guilty to the ultimate punishment. And the death penalty raises serious questions about the morality of vengeance, the sanctity of life and the possibility of redemption.
Those who claim to believe the government is unqualified to perform the most basic functions should be leading the charge to get the government out of the business of deciding who lives and who dies. (The Right was far more outraged about fake “death panels” during the health care debate than they were about a real one in Georgia last week.)
But capital punishment is also a bipartisan shame. For every John Lewis — the courageous Congressman and civil rights movement leader who condemned Troy Davis’s execution — there’s a legion of others on the left who remain silent or actively support capital punishment.
Tea Partiers who openly celebrate state-sanctioned killing while claiming a moral mandate to weaken government – along with other elected officials who support this heinous practice — are all accountable for perpetuating the abhorrence of capital punishment.
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As attention turns to a select congressional committee tasked with cutting the deficit by an additional $1.5 trillion, religious leaders and President Obama are offering a stark alternative to anti-tax ideologues who insist on coddling the wealthiest Americans at the expense of everyone else.
As Casey pointed out yesterday, religious leaders sent a pointed letter to members of the Supercommittee who have endorsed Washington lobbyist Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, urging them to represent all Americans, not just the privileged few.
This comes on the heels of President Obama’s call for a new tax rate for millionaires and vow to veto any deficit plans that include drastic spending cuts without increases in tax revenues, to which prominent conservatives responded with tired rhetoric about “class warfare.”
Such accusations ring particularly hollow since the wealthiest Americans currently have the lowest tax burden and highest share of our nation’s wealth in decades, and new Census data shows almost 1 in 6 Americans living in poverty, the largest number in half a century. Furthermore, given that many conservatives are attacking effective protections such as unemployment insurance, the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps and Medicaid, it’s fair to say that if there is class warfare in America, the Right is waging it – and winning.
As this immoral economic agenda becomes further entrenched, the Tea Party base is openly cheerleading for deadly policies. In two Republican debates, Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas received chilling applause for defending hundreds of executions and calling for the destruction of crucial protections that prevent the uninsured from dying. This radical cruelty and individualism reflects the morality of Ayn Rand rather than the values of compassion and the common good. As this chilling trend in American politics continues, it’s crucial for the faith community to stand up to cruel and irresponsible policies.
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On the tenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks this past weekend, our nation remembered the lives lost, prayed together, and served alongside fellow Americans. In a refreshing break from partisan rancor on Capitol Hill, President Obama and former President George W. Bush stood together during a service at the World Trade Center Memorial.
Those attacks on American soil, the first since Pearl Harbor, led to a reckless war in Iraq and created an unprecedented national security buildup in Washington. It cast a cloud of suspicion that still unjustly lingers over peaceful Muslims. And as a recent report from the Center for American Progress chronicles, anti-Muslim activism is on the rise in the U.S. The professional extremists who fuel this movement received $42 million in the last decade to spread misinformation and foment fear of Muslims.
But the attacks also inspired a hopeful resurgence of interfaith partnership and renewed attention to the values of pluralism, cooperation and civility, particularly in the days and weeks immediately following 9/11.
Interfaith campaigns started in the years after 9/11 are mobilizing to reclaim a spirit of unity and cooperation. Twenty-six faith groups have now joined Shoulder-to-Shoulder, an interfaith effort launched last year to oppose anti-Muslim bigotry. Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders with the campaign gathered in Washington last week to call for unity and healing and recognize faith-based organizations across the country building bridges in their communities to foster positive dialogue and cooperation.
Clergy Beyond Borders has brought together pastors, rabbis and imams for an 18-city tour that will visit, among other places, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where fierce opposition to a proposed mosque divided the community and attracted national media attention. Tennessee is also one of more than two dozen states where lawmakers have proposed unnecessary and offensive anti-sharia legislation.
People of faith are holding mainstream leaders accountable for endorsing an Islamophobic agenda. Faithful America, an online community of 100,000 people of faith, sent over 3,000 letters to Professor Robert George of Princeton – an influential Catholic conservative – asking him to explain why he sits on the board of the Bradley Foundation, an organization that provides financial support to anti-Muslim extremists. Religious leaders and other people of faith will continue to challenge those who exploit divisions and unfairly target Muslim members of the American family. By upholding our most cherished American values, the faith community can lead our nation from fear to hope.
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From Rev. Jennifer Butler, Executive Director, Faith in Public Life
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Rev. Jerry Falwell on the day of his death. With his passing, one of the landmarks of the American religious landscape has passed as well; our discourse on religion and public life is sure to be impacted in ways we cannot yet fully imagine. There will be time in the days ahead to evaluate the impact of Rev. Falwell on our civic life, and particularly the tone and content of debates on religion and public life in America. For now, we pause to give sympathies to those closest to Rev. Falwell, and reflect on the experience of death that unites us all.
Rev. Jennifer Butler
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Rev. Jennifer Butler writes to us live from the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference in New Orleans. She’ll check in throughout the event with updates on this important gathering.
The Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference launched last night with a night. With 1500 in attendance it was the largest gathering of clergy in New Orleans since hurricane Katrina struck. Dr Iva Carruthers, the conference’s General Secretary, has made this conference the “go to place” for social justice oriented African American clergy. The conference is especially attentive to raising a new generation of leaders-150 seminarians from 32 seminaries are present.
The conference opened with a remembrance of the Rev. Samuel Dewitt Proctor. The Reverend Dr. James Forbes spoke to how Proctor mentored generations of social justice oriented black clergy. Proctor once wrote, “Some pastors have given up on filling the shoes of Amos, Micah, Isaiah, or Jeremiah… God bless those pastors who stand tall and who, in love, tell the truth.” Forbes reminded the 1,500 participants that its not enough just to show up; they must “tangibilitate” the Gospel-that is make it tangible and live it out.
The conference opened with two women clergy speaking truth to power. The Reverend Dr. Susan K Smith of Advent United Church of Christ in Columbus Ohio and the Rev. Liz Walker of Bethel AME in Jamaica Plain Masachucetts raised the roof, challenging us on our personal faith journey as well as taking on our national leaders on issues like the genocide in Darfur, the War in Iraq, Katrina, the American culture of materialism and corporate welfare.
Most noted by all speakers was the fact that President Bush had failed to even mention the Katrina disaster in his State of the Union Address. Conference leaders in response vowed to meet in New Orleans again next year to continue with this year’s theme, “In the Wake of Katrina: Lest We Forget… Call to Renewal.” Many of the clergy arrived early to tour the Ninth Ward and other affected areas. Tomorrow, conference leaders will hold a sunrise service on the Claiborne Street Bridge, where many of the city’s poor were stopped by police while trying to escape the city.
It’s been an inspired gathering so far, with much more to come!
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