John Gehring, Faith in Public Life’s Senior Writer and Catholic Outreach Coordinator, joined FPL after three years at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He blogs about Catholics in public life.
The fierce debate over whether to extend Bush-era tax cuts has become front-page news and provoked a steady stream of punditry as the midterm elections approach. It seems that faith leaders have an important voice to raise on this issue. While some might think this is an unlikely topic for pastors and faith-based advocates, diverse religious traditions have a proud history of advocating for a just economy, and Catholic social teaching in particular has some pretty specific things to say about how taxes relate to the common good. In fact, the Catholic Church calls for “a reasonable and fair application of taxes” in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, a long and daunting title for the encyclopedic volume of the church’s centuries-old social justice teachings:
Tax revenues and public spending take on crucial economic importance for every civil and political community…Public spending is directed to the common good when certain fundamental principles are observed: the payment of taxes as part of the duty of solidarity; a reasonable and fair application of taxes; precision and integrity in administering and distributing public resources. In the redistribution of resources, public spending must observe the principles of solidarity, equality and making use of talents. It must also pay greater attention to families, designating an adequate amount of resources for this purpose.
Let’s hope Catholic leaders in states like Ohio, home to House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner – now an influential evangelist in the Church of Trickle-Down Economics – can weigh in with some timely values messaging about the role of taxes. Faith leaders nervous about entering this critical debate that strikes at the very core of what ends our economy should ultimately serve have a good example in Pope Benedict XVI, who last summer called for a dramatic rethinking of the global economy in ways that recognize the moral and practical perils of free-market fundamentalism. Religious leaders, it’s time to lift up your economic justice positions, sharpen your talking points for the media cycle, and go make some news!
It’s been easy to lose hope and feel pretty dispirited about the ugly nativism and rising anti-Muslim sentiment casting a dark cloud over the nation leading into a weekend when we pause to remember the horrific attacks of Sept. 11. But as we’ve pointed out, the disproportionate media coverage given to a small group of Christians who betray the core values of all faiths, is just part of the story. Dan posted a CNN interview yesterday with Pastor Larry Reimer, a Gainesville minister helping to unite the local Christian, Jewish and Muslim community.
Those of us who recognize that violent extremism will never be defeated with hate and ignorance that demonize entire religious communities will also find inspiration in the moving story of two women who lost their husbands in the World Trade Center. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof tells their moving story in this op-ed, The Healers of 9/11.
This weekend, a Jewish woman who lost her husband in the 9/11 attacks is planning to speak at a mosque in Boston. She will be trying to recruit members of the mosque to join her battle against poverty and illiteracy in Afghanistan. The woman, Susan Retik, has pursued perhaps the most unexpected and inspiring American response to the 9/11 attacks… In the shattering aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, Ms. Retik bonded with another woman, Patti Quigley, whose husband had also died in the attack. They lived near each other, and both were pregnant with babies who would never see their fathers. Devastated themselves, they realized that there were more than half a million widows in Afghanistan — and then, with war, there would be even more. Ms. Retik and Ms. Quigley also saw that Afghan widows could be a stabilizing force in that country. So at a time when the American government reacted to the horror of 9/11 mostly with missiles and bombs, detentions and waterboardings, Ms. Retik and Ms. Quigley turned to education and poverty-alleviation projects — in the very country that had incubated a plot that had pulverized their lives. The organization they started, Beyond the 11th, has now assisted more than 1,000 Afghan widows in starting tiny businesses. It’s an effort both to help some of the world’s neediest people and to fight back at the distrust, hatred and unemployment that sustain the Taliban.
It’s heroic women like these who embody the best of American values. Their courage to weave the raw strands of anger and grief into a stunning tapestry of hope offers a stark rebuke to those sad examples dominating the news cycle these days. Next time you read another story about fanatics planning to burn Korans or the growing backlash against mosques in communities across the country remember these women and disciples of the Good News like Pastor Larry Reimer.
A church in Florida will burn Korans on September 11th. Angry protestors opposing the building of an Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero wave signs warning of Sharia law taking over America. Communities across the country are embroiled in fierce debates over proposed mosques. More stories are popping up every day about mosques being vandalized and Muslims facing threats. A young man consumed by anti-Islam fury brutally stabbed a Muslim taxi driver in New York City.
While it may be convenient to dismiss these incidents as aberrations, there is clearly a disturbing trend emerging that can’t be easily dismissed. Anti-Muslim fervor is even creeping into mainstream commentary and political races. Listen to syndicated political columnist Cal Thomas writing for the Washington Post “On Faith” blog:
Our enemies are using our Constitution and religious pluralism against us. They have a plan to infiltrate us, build mosques and ultimately impose Sharia Law. They say so. They mean so. People who are in denial about this are dupes and self-deluded. ..Go ahead and call me names. That won’t change the reality that the Muslims are coming. In fact, they are already here.
This kind of toxic rhetoric creates a climate that can easily lead to violence. Edina Lekovic, the communications director for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, has it right in an interview with Talking Points Memo: “The hateful rhetoric that is being spewed by people like Newt Gingrich and then being amplified by mainstream media outlets poses a grave danger to the safety and well-being of everyday Muslim Americans like this cab driver, an innocent person,” she said.
Conservative activists and politicians have also been quick to wield the verbal weapons of demagoguery, and many liberals have failed to stand up to them. A new political ad from the American Future Fund goes after Rep. Bruce Braley, an Iowa Democrat, for supporting the Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero. The ad ominously warns that, “for centuries, Muslims built mosques where they won military victories. Now, they want to build a mosque at Ground Zero…It’s like the Japanese building at Pearl Harbor.” Watch it:
Considered in historical context, this recent wave of xenophobia, ignorance and simmering violence is deeply disturbing but hardly new. The “other” in American culture has always been demonized and faced accusations of disloyalty. As Catholic News Service recently pointed out:
“No Irish Need Apply” signs common in Massachusetts early in the 19th century were rooted in fears over how American society might be changed by immigrants, but particularly by their Catholic faith and culture…The Catholic Encyclopedia describes mobs descending upon a cathedral in Cincinnati in 1853, on churches in New Jersey, New York, Maine and New Hampshire the following year. It tells of a Maine priest who was dragged from his church, robbed, tarred and feathered; of Ohio churches being blown up and convents burned in Massachusetts and Texas.
As in years past, the public mood is swirling in sinister directions as economic anxiety, rising xenophobia and a new generation of demagogues create a combustible mix. We need to be vigilant to ensure that the ugly torrent of fear and scapegoating is overcome by a spirited defense of our nation’s core values and highest ideals. The bloody and shameful alternative is already written in our history books.
Politicians and pundits who tout simplistic enforcement-only solutions to our nation’s complex immigration challenges have some chilling new information to contemplate as the grim body count on the border continues to rise.
The Los Angeles Timesreported yesterday that while “some expected tougher immigration policies to deter people from trying to cross the desert” 170 bodies have been found in Tucson (Pima County) already this year — a number on pace to break a 2007 record. In July alone, 59 people were found dead. The death toll has soared at such a staggering pace that a refrigerated trailer truck has been added to serve as a makeshift morgue at the coroner’s office.
As this story vividly documents, enforcement-only approaches to immigration drive desperate immigrants to take more dangerous routes through the Arizona desert. Migrants don’t cross borders because it’s easy. Most risk death, and will continue to do so, because they are desperate for work and a better life for their family.
This shameful development again reinforces the urgent need for comprehensive immigration reform that brings immigrants out of the shadows, helps keep families together and cracks down on unscrupulous employers who hire and exploit immigrant labor. This isn’t “amnesty” as many opponents insist. It’s a practical and humane response to an issue that will not disappear with tough talk, cowboy justice or higher fences.
A nation that is serious about safeguarding its core values and highest ideals can’t afford to ignore the mounting deaths of men, women and children at its borders. It’s time for an honest conversation about immigration that acknowledges both the cruelty and ineffectiveness that characterizes the failed status quo. Politicians who demagogue this issue and spread ugly myths about immigrants may score cheap political points on the campaign trail, but they abdicate their sacred trust as public officials. History will not judge them kindly.
Kim Bobo, the executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, has an instructive piece up at Religious Dispatches about the effective organizing “ground game” run by the Unitarian Universalist Association during recent actions responding to Arizona’s draconian immigration law.
She highlights the UUA’s “Standing on the Side of Love” campaign as a model for faith-based activism – some of the only notable denominational organizing muscle on the scene. Bobo points out that the flurry of prayer vigils and demonstrations that were quickly organized in Arizona – events that earned significant media attention – were led by justice groups on the ground, not from institutional church bodies.
The religious community was engaged and integral to most of the local organizing, but the leadership didn’t come from denominational structures. Rather, it came largely from immigrant rights and worker justice groups, which invited religious leaders to participate. Although most faith bodies and denominations have very strong statements on immigration reform, those same denominations did not activate people. With one glaring exception – the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). Of the several hundred religious leaders who showed up, only the Unitarian Universalist Association seriously committed staff, money, and organizing talent to the struggle.
It’s exciting to think about what could happen if more denominations started developing similar programs. Well-crafted statements and policy positions are important, but the most eloquent words are not enough to affect lasting social change. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. moved a nation with his soaring rhetorical grandeur, but the sweat and blood and block-by-block movement building at the local level played a crucial role in bending the arc of history toward justice.