Earlier this week, Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) spoke at the March for Life rally on the National Mall saying among other things “as a father of four and a grandfather of 5, I know how precious life is.” Then later that day, he blasted new Environmental Protection Agency regulations that for the first time require coal-fired plants to limit toxic mercury pollutants directly linked to fetal disease, death and serious illness in children.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops touted the new mercury and air toxic standards as “an important step forward to protect the health of all people, especially unborn babies and young children.” Bishop Stephen Blaire, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, noted that it’s just “good sense to want to have clean air for our children and families to breath and for future generations.”
Along with Catholic bishops, a diverse range of faith leaders – including more than 100 evangelical pastors and the president of the National Association of Evangelicals – pushed for reasonable controls on these deadly toxins.
But Rep. Johnson’s pro-life commitment apparently stops at the coal lobbyists’door. Here’s what he said on the floor of Congress:
Mr. Speaker, here’s the simple truth. The Obama administration is driven by a far-left liberal ideology rather than the facts. This administration says it wants to put America back to work, but through its policies is doing right the opposite.
For example, because of the EPA’s new train wreck of regulation, up to 160 direct jobs will be lost with the accelerated closure of Beverly, Ohio’s Muskingham coal-fired power plant. This train wreck of regulation is the most expensive regulation that the EPA has ever mandated. These costs will ultimately be passed on to hard-working families in the form of higher utility rates. This new disastrous regulation will also cost southern Ohio many indirect jobs related to the coal industry. No matter how you look at it, the president has declared war on the coal industry and the jobs that go with it.
It’s cynical politics and a false choice to ask Americans to choose between jobs and public health. Is our nation really incapable of growing our economy without harming pregnant women, infants and children? Rep. Johnson (who counts the mining and electric utilities industries as two of his top five campaign contributors) and other self-identified pro-life members of Congress should get off the soap box and ask what they are really doing to protect children and families. Soaring rhetoric at a rally isn’t enough.
President Obama’s decision yesterday to reject a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline came as great news for progressives around the country who have been working to stop this dangerous project from getting started.
As we documented last year, people of faith have been a key, visible part of this coalition and were particularly excited about the news.
Rose Marie Berger, a Sojourners associate editor and organizer for the Tar Sands religious witness, who said:
“President Obama campaigned as a man who understood the crisis of global warming. He told us that he understood that climate change kills the poor first, as we’ve seen recently with the typhoon in the Philippines. Today he’s demonstrated that he can actually take substantive steps in leading America to meet that challenge. He pushed back on “too big to fail” oil and energy companies. He pushed back on foolish partisan bullying. He stood up as the leader that many elected him to be.
“The fight doesn’t end here – because abusive corporations don’t stop just because their permit was denied—but today we know that our president can also be our leader. We look forward to a future of job production that any American will be proud to be involved in—jobs in an industry that is producing clean energy and protects rather than poisons God’s good earth.”
Brian McLaren, Author and Speaker, who said:
“If Jesus were here today, I think he just might say something like, “humanity shall not live by oil alone.” Today, our president showed that there are values above corporate profits. Thanks to him and all who stood up for the common good beyond short-term oil money and towards a clean energy economy with sustainable jobs.”
In an important story that hasn’t gained much national attention yet, New York state is in the middle of a heated debate about whether to open up vast western areas of the state to hydrofracking for natural gas. Last week, the state Department of Environmental Conservation closed the public comment period on a study of the environmental impact of this destructive form of drilling, pushing the issue into local headlines.
A coalition of faith leaders from MICAH (Moving in Congregations Acting in Hope) and antipollution advocates affiliated with GDACC (Gas Drilling Awareness of Cortland County) contributed an important perspective by holding a press conference that lifted up the moral dimension of the issue and released a new poll showing a majority of residents oppose hydrofracking. Here’s some local coverage:
I spoke extensively last week with leaders of the movement to protect their communities from the soil, air and water contamination that hydrofracking causes. They were dedicated and well-informed, pointing out that the DEC’s study ignored many key aspects of hydrofracking’s impact (for example, it didn’t even explore public health impacts). These clergy and activists were also motivated by faith to insert a needed moral voice to the debate on an issue with serious health, environmental and economic consequences.
People of faith have been working for years to stop coal mining companies’ destructive practice of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia, which has caused environmental and public health disasters across the region. As the Tennessee legislative session begins, congregations across the state have joined together for 40 days of prayer to alert their elected officials to their concerns and prevent the mining of peaks above 2,000 feet.
Despite the uphill battle that Tennessee residents face against these powerful corporate special interests, the activists and local residents were stunningly clear in their conviction that their faith calls them to restore the pristine condition of the water and air quality in the region.
The way we love the creator of the universe is to love the creation,” said Pastor Ryan Bennett [who also] says the environment may not be the first thing you’d think [of] from a pew, but here it’s a grassroots issue firmly planted in faith. “It’s sort of like a David and Goliath sort of scenario. We’re volunteers. We don’t know what we’re doing, but we believe that God is with us.
Tennesseans are surely in a “David and Goliath” scenario with coal mining companies, but they have the support of a wide array of faith groups. At least six national Christian denominations have passed resolutions condemning mountaintop removal mining and are united in their efforts to raise awarenessof these exploitative practices among their congregations.
With local residents and the environment left defenseless in the face of mining companies that have virtually unlimited rights and minimal supervision of their environmental practices, mining laws must be updated to protect more than just the interests of powerful mining companies. Thanks to these Tennesseans and groups around the country, residents will not be left to fight these devastating consequences alone.
The biggest problem with Peters’s rebuttal is that he missed the ultimate point of John’s piece. While Peters reads it as a “theological assassination” of Santorum in defense of President Obama, John wasn’t trying to make the case for any other presidential candidates. He doesn’t even claim that Catholics can’t or shouldn’t vote for Rick Santorum.
As John makes clear in his conclusion, he simply wants to caution against anointing Santorum as some kind of ideal Catholic candidate. And to make his case, he lays out a series of issues on which Rick Santorum is publicly and clearly at odds with the position of the Catholic bishops and the Church at large. These are factual and historical points that exist regardless of either John’s or Peters’s opinions about any of these issues.
A review of Peters objections:
Immigration Peters dismissively acknowledges that Santorum has “room to grow” on this issue, but then goes on to blame the President and Democrats at large for not reforming the system in the last three years. As I explained before, such comparisons are distractions from rather than rebuttals of John’s point, but I’ll humor Peters for a minute.
While Catholics have a very legitimate critique of this administration’s record on overzealous deportations, when it comes to the kind of comprehensive reform the Catholic bishops support it’s not any kind of secret which party has prevented it from passing over the last ten years.
But Peters “doesn’t see where…Santorum is saying something different” than the bishops on immigration reform. I find this statement puzzling, as John quoted Santorum openly acknowledging his disagreement with the bishops on this issue word-for-word in his original post:
“If we develop the program like the Catholic bishops suggested we would be creating a huge magnet for people to come in and break the law some more, we’d be inviting people to cross this border, come into this country and with the expectation that they will be able to stay here permanently.”
Poverty, Inequality and Financial Reform Peters doesn’t even really try to engage with the substance of John’s points here — instead he just makes vague taunts about “lefty Catholics” at large and FPL’s “agenda”. As our “agenda” on these issues is pretty much the same as the Bishops, Peters should probably take his complaints up with them. I’ll just reiterate the facts:
The Bishops expressed serious reservations about Paul Ryan’s budget because of its refusal to raise adequate revenues, the disproportionate cuts to programs that protect the poor and vulnerable, and the unfair way it put the burden of Medicare cost-cutting on seniors. Santorum full-throatedlyendorsed Ryan’s plan and proposed one of his own that would do the same things.
The Church is concerned with reforming the kind of unregulated capitalism and financial misconduct that led to the global recession. As a Senator, Santorum voted for deregulation that helped precipitate the crisis, and he continues to get his facts wrong on the cause of the meltdown.
Rick Santorum has adopted Randian “makers/takers” language and derided calls for more progressive taxation levels as “redistribution of wealth.” The Pope doesn’t even know this is supposed to be a dirty word.
Here Peters just asserts that the issue is complex, but his view lines up with Santorum’s so there’s apparently nothing to see here.
Climate Change and the Environment
Peters’s bizarre lecture on the actual motivations of the environmental movement aside, the facts again here are simple. The Pope is concerned about the dangerous consequences of not addressing climate change; Rick Santorum thinks it’s a liberal conspiracy. The Catholic bishops celebrated the EPA’s recent mercury ruling; Santorum condemned it.
Torture and War
This one is a mess. Once again, rather than rebut the substance of John’s argument, Peters has to change the subject and introduce specious arguments. Accuse “the left” broadly of refusing to criticize President Obama? Check. Compare torture to drone assassinations without any explanation of the point? Check. Reduce Iranian foreign policy to a choice between bombings and nuclear apocalypse? Check. Excuse Santorum’s Catholically indefensible policies because they at worst prove “Santorum cares most for the safety of American citizens and interests”? Check.
Again, simple point: Santorum supports torture; Church doesn’t. Pope cautioned against Iraq war; Santorum championed it.
Peters ends with a long complaint that John didn’t bring up abortion and marriage. Unfortunately, that’s because they’re not related to the ultimate point of John’s post. Peters is, of course, right — there’s no debate about whether Santorum is in line with the Church’s opinions on these issues. He’s pretty vocal about his stances, and religious and political commentators don’t seem to have any trouble recognizing and noting them.
John’s goal was to help bring to light some of the issues that get less attention as “moral issues” in the media — and help political commentators avoid making the mistake of suggesting that examining a candidates’ positions on abortion and marriage is sufficient to determine whether they’re representative of Catholic political thought.
Now, I recognize that Peters and many other conservatives might argue that these two issues are so important that they essentially overwhelm a candidate’s divergent views on any other topics. Making tough calls between imperfect candidates is the nature of our two-party democracy, particularly for Catholics, and I wouldn’t have any problem if Peters’s contention just boiled down to that personal judgement.
To go further, I don’t really care if Peters wants to argue this is the only acceptable voting standard for Catholics at large, or that the only appropriate candidate for Catholics to vote for Rick Santorum because his Catholic “pluses” outweigh his Catholic “minuses.” The U.S. Bishops voting guide, Faithful Citizenship, asks all Catholics to weigh that exact kind of judgment, and such an opinion is certainly a reasonable one worth debating.
Even further, Peters is welcome to join Rick Santorum and argue that the Church is wrong on these issues — that any of these particular policies are matters of prudential judgement in which he and Santorum have reached different conclusions than the Church hierarchy. I would probably disagree with many of their conclusions, but I don’t think it would make either of them “bad Catholics.” Discrediting and demeaning my fellow Catholics’ faiths when I disagree with them just isn’t really something I’m interested in.
But, of course, Peters didn’t engage in a substantive debate about John’s factual arguments. Nor did he have the courage to admit he and Santorum just have a different position than the Church. In his eagerness to claim the mantle of Catholicism for his favored candidate, Peters seems not only willing to overlook Santorum’s discrepancies on a wide range of Catholic issues, but also to actively deny that they even exist. Combined with his propensity for putting words in people’s mouths and dishonestly ascribing ulterior motives, this dangerous obfuscation of fact in service of partisan politics damages Peters’s credibility and emblemizes the concerns many of us in the faith and politics have about the Catholic right more broadly.