Pope Benedict XVI: A Tea Party Catholic?

September 29, 2010, 10:18 am | Posted by

As David Gibson at Politics Daily noted recently, some conservative Catholics are trying to use Catholic teaching to endorse the Tea Party.

“The pope and the tea party – these are not unrelated things. They shouldn’t be, anyway,” writes Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor-at-large of National Review Online. Lopez develops her position at HeadlineBistro.com, a Catholic site sponsored by the Knights of Columbus:

The tea party movement . . . isn’t an explicitly religious movement, by any strength. But if you talk to people who show up to the rallies, if you listen to some of the candidates who have showed up to run for office this year — to serve — it’s hard to escape this is a cultural movement of people who feel called to something greater than themselves. They dare to hope, to believe that we can be better than we have been. Of course, they dare to hope that we can be better when it comes to government spending, better when it comes to seriousness about homeland security, better when it comes to making people freer to make choices that are best for their families, and so on.

Lopez specifically touts Florida Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio and House GOP Rep. Paul Ryan, both Catholics and Tea Party heroes, as “among those who give a most compelling voice to people’s fears about the future of the American idea, the experiment that Pope Benedict spoke with respect and admiration of when he came here to visit” in April 2008.

Making a connection between Tea Party principles and the words of Pope Benedict XVI is a stunning distortion of Catholic teaching about government. Catholic teaching is unequivocal about the essential role government has in serving the common good and warns about the dangers of markets that fail to protect human dignity. In fact, the pope’s latest encyclical calls for a fundamental rethinking of economic systems that solely benefit multinational corporations at the expense of citizens, especially the poor and vulnerable. Lopez also might want to dust off her Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, released by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace:

The responsibility for attaining the common good, besides falling to individual persons, belongs also to the State, since the common good is the reason the political authority exists. The state, in fact, must guarantee the coherency, unity and organization of the civil society of which it is an expression…The individual person, the family or intermediate groups are not able to achieve their full development by themselves for living a truly human life…To ensure the common good, the government of each country has the specific duty to harmonize the different sectoral interests with the requirements of justice.

Sure doesn’t sound like a bold endorsement of Tea Party ideology or the warmed-over talking points about small government found in the Pledge to America.

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Park51 — a symbol of American values

September 1, 2010, 5:15 pm | Posted by

FPL held a press teleconference today featuring national security experts and diverse faith leaders making a compelling argument in favor of the Park51 Islamic Center and mosque near Ground Zero: the project not only has the legal right to move forward, it should be encouraged to do so because it would promote national security and embody American values of pluralism, religious liberty and interfaith cooperation.

Speakers included national security experts Matthew Alexander, a former high-level military interrogator in Iraq, and Andrew Bacevich, a nationally recognized expert on the military and international relations, as well as powerful voices (and strong allies!) from the faith community – Simon Greer of Jewish Funds for Justice, Lisa Sharon Harper of New York Faith & Justice, and David Gushee of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. (Full-length audio of the call is here.) Individually and as a group, they made a compelling case in support of the Park51 Islamic Center, and gave political opportunists who have used fear-mongering rhetoric to stoke opposition to the mosque the stinging rebuke they deserve. Quotes from each of the speakers are after the jump:

Matthew Alexander:

“Park51 would be a powerful symbol of U.S. tolerance and freedom that will stand in direct contradiction to al Qaeda’s narrative that Americans hate Muslims. As a symbol, its construction demonstrates that the U.S. is not at war with Islam and that Muslims are welcome in America. It communicates a message of moderation that stands in stark contrast to al Qaeda’s bankrupt ideology. Symbols like this matter. Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and the policy of torture and abuse handed al Qaeda its number one recruiting tool. Those who think al Qaeda will not be able to spin this controversy to their advantage are disastrously mistaken.”

Lisa Sharon Harper:

“As a New Yorker, I feel this debate in a very personal way–the area where Park51 is being proposed is not on Ground Zero. It is in a quiet community that has had an active Muslim population for centuries. The Muslims in the community have loved their neighborhood. They have loved their neighbors. We cannot allow Al Qaeda to gut us of our soul. We need this community center and mosque. It is America’s opportunity to put the words of Jesus to work. It is our opportunity to love our neighbors back.”

David Gushee:

“We seem to be in a fight over what 9/11 is to mean in this country over the long term. We should remember that in the aftermath of 9/11, America came together in a show of unity and cooperation. Let’s hold our political leaders, and ourselves, accountable for returning to that spirit. 9/11 cannot be taken to mean a permanent state of fear, anger, and grief, nor the directing of all of that at our fellow Muslims.”

Simon Greer:

“As a minority community with a history of persecution and exclusion at the hands of the majority, how can we not appreciate the dangers of a society in which it is acceptable to persecute and exclude minority communities, in which the individual is always placed over the collective? Our safety and security and prosperity in this country are directly related to the success we have had, with others, at making the United States a more inclusive place, with more interconnected communities.”

Andrew Bacevich:

“Speaking as a Catholic – a religion subject to considerable discrimination – I cherish the fact that I can be a full citizen and also be committed to my faith tradition. I find it unacceptable and deeply un-American to deny adherents of other faith traditions the freedoms I have enjoyed. Whether intentionally or not, the contrived mosque controversy wrongly and wrong-headedly conveys the impression that the United States views Islam itself as a national security threat.”

Other quotes and more information here: http://faithinpubliclife.org/content/press/2010/09/faith_leaders_national_securit.html

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Faith leaders support Cordoba House, Denounce Anti-Muslim rhetoric

August 11, 2010, 2:26 pm | Posted by

Rather than portraying the Cordoba House/Park51 Islamic Center and mosque in Manhattan as what it actually is — a center promoting interfaith relations, combating extremism, and offering community programs for people of all religious backgrounds — opponents of the proposed complex such as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin have stirred up a great deal of publicity by labeling it an “insult” and a “provocation.”

Today more than 40 prominent, diverse faith leaders and religion scholars in New York and across the country issued a statement calling the rhetoric of pundits like Palin and Gingrich exactly what it is — an appeal to “xenophobia and religious bigotry.” The statement, signed by leaders ranging from Simon Greer of Jewish Funds for Justice to National Council of Churches President Peg Chemberlin to Salam Al-Marayati, President of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, argues that Cordoba House opponents “would make a more lasting contribution to our nation if they stopped issuing inflammatory statements and instead helped inspire a civil dialogue between Christians, Jews and Muslims committed to a future guided by the principles of compassion, justice and peace.” The entire statement and list if signatories, including numerous rabbis, is here.

Faithful America – an online community of more than 100,000 people of diverse faiths – is also standing up to anti-Muslim sentiment and fierce opposition to proposed mosques in communities across the country by circulating and signing a petition to honor the “many contributions of American Muslims toward global peace” and denounce bigotry and limits on religious freedom as a betrayal of American values. The petition will be sent not only to American Muslim leaders, but also to Gingrich and Palin. Sign it here.

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Religious leaders react to Prop 8 ruling

August 5, 2010, 4:41 pm | Posted by

Although the federal court ruling overturning California’s Proposition 8 yesterday was only the first step toward a likely Supreme Court hearing of the case, it’s still a landmark moment for the LGBT rights movement, and religious leaders and denominations have issued a range of reactions – including many lauding the ruling.

The Los Angeles Diocese of the Episcopal Church quickly issued a statement declaring that “Justice is advancing thanks to today’s ruling affirming Californians’ constitutional right to marriage in faithful, same-gender relationships.” Episcopal News Service reported that Episcopalian joined public celebrations of the ruling across the state.

Rev. Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations praised the ruling as well, but noted the progress yet to be made:

The ruling today by Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker declaring California’s Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional is a victory for same-sex couples, their families, and all Americans who believe in equal rights. Over the past several years marriage equality has become a reality in Spain, South Africa, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Argentina. It should be a cause of national shame that the United States is not yet among those nations.

For many years now Unitarian Universalists (UUs) in California have been at the forefront of the struggle for marriage equality in that state. I applaud their continuing efforts, and I reaffirm the commitment of Unitarian Universalists nationwide to stand on the side of love until marriage equality is the law of the land.

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism also issued a statement of approval that noted the Reform Movement’s commitment to the LGBT equality movement:

We will continue to stand with the LGBT community in California, and all who cherish justice, as this case makes it way through the Court system. We are proud of the leadership roles played by so many Reform Movement rabbis and activists, and we stand ready to work with them as we move forward.

When Proposition 8 passed as a ballot initiative in 2008, the role the LDS Church, the Catholic Church, and Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church played in supporting it greatly overshadowed coverage of religious groups that opposed it. I mean that as an observation rather than a criticism – Mormons’ extensive financing of the campaign to pass the amendment, for example, had a significant impact on the debate and deserved extensive media coverage. But now, as the issue winds its way through the judicial system, a new opportunity to report the faith community’s wide range of beliefs about marriage equality has arrived. The portrayal of the issue as a conflict between religious opponents and secular supporters of same-sex marriage never reflected the complexity and diversity of views in the faith community. This time around, here’s hoping the whole story gets told.

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Farm Workers Lose Out to Big Business

August 4, 2010, 2:47 pm | Posted by

Forty years ago this summer, social justice activists, labor unions and faith leaders celebrated a historic victory when the United Farm Workers of America ended a grape boycott after growers agreed to sign their first contract with the union. The news from California these days is not as sunny.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ignored calls from Catholic priests, labor unions and workers’ rights groups when he recently vetoed a bill passed by both houses of the state legislature that would have made farm workers eligible for overtime pay if they worked more than an eight-hour day. The bill would have also given the workers the right to take one day off out of seven. (I’m not a Biblical scholar, but even God rested on the seventh day!)

Instead, the governor – who as a newly arrived immigrant in the United States was no stranger to hard labor as a bricklayer – sided with the state’s influential agribusiness lobby, citing his concern that he would put the growers at a competitive disadvantage.

This is another sad example of how a commitment to human dignity is sacrificed for corporate profits, a characteristic sign of a capitalist system that has lost it moral bearings. For more on this, read Pope Benedict’s latest encyclical – a timely reflection on economic justice and the ethical limits of free-market fundamentalism. As Interfaith Worker Justice points out, farm workers have one of the most punishing jobs possible. Exposed to hazardous pesticides and long hours, many live in company-owned labor camps.

Next time you’re enjoying peaches or corn this summer take a minute to remember how this bounty made it to your table.

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