Are taxes a moral issue?

September 16, 2010, 5:48 pm | Posted by

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!

add a comment »

Shining a light on Capitol Hill

September 15, 2010, 4:28 pm | Posted by

This morning, I sat in the back of a beautiful Lutheran church on Capitol Hill and listened as prophetic and hope-filled community and faith leaders rallied for immigration reform. Over 500 people gathered today to call for relief, respect, and reform– relief for the thousands of families being torn apart by our broken immigration system, respect for all human lives, and reform that provides a long-term solution for our country.

Jim Wallis of Sojourners roused the crowd this morning with his call for justice, saying:

“We are here today because there is no such thing as an illegal human being. We are all, first, children of God, endowed with the image of our creator and deserving of respect… We believe in the rule of law, but we also understand that it is these things that are the purpose of the law. When the law no longer fulfills this purpose, it is unjust and must be reformed.”

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) called for a true embrace of family values, while also announcing that he will introduce immigration reform legislation in the Senate soon:

“We cannot see families ripped apart. That is not my conception of family values.”

And, this afternoon, I accompanied a group of passionate and committed people of faith from Arizona, Illinois, Michigan, and Washington state to visit Senator McCain’s office, urging him to come back to the table and show moral leadership on an issue he has been so vocally supportive of in the past. In the middle of a jampacked Senate office lobby (there were over 50 of us!), Reverend Warren Stewart of First Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix, AZ led an awe-inspiring prayer, which included this powerful line:

“God, move upon Senator McCain to come back to the table, to put aside partisan politics and stand on the principle that made him who he is.”

Our visit to Senator McCain’s office closed with a slightly off-tune but heartfelt rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.” Probably wasn’t an everyday occurrence for the Senator’s staff, so I’m hoping we made an impression. With 1,100 people being deported every day– fathers, mothers, siblings, brothers, sisters, teachers, caregivers, grandparents– the moral urgency isn’t letting up. I hope a spirit of love, hope, and justice does move upon Senator McCain and his colleagues in political power and that they do the right thing on the DREAM Act, and on comprehensive immigration reform.

add a comment »

More faith leaders weigh in on the DREAM Act

September 15, 2010, 3:38 pm | Posted by

Another objection raised yesterday by opponents of the DREAM Act was that it made the defense appropriations bill – in the words of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — “needlessly controversial.” Last night I checked in with Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, and she had this to say:

DREAM Act has always enjoyed broad bipartisan support and is anything but “needlessly controversial.” It is directly related to military recruitment and promotes the best of who we are as a nation. Good bills should not be held hostage by partisan wrangling. Young people who are contributing to our society should be able to fully participate in our nation. This is about taking care of the military AND our society in general.

add a comment »

The definition of family

September 15, 2010, 10:35 am | Posted by

Noticed this interesting piece in the New York Times today:

A majority of Americans now say their definition of family includes same-sex couples with children, as well as married gay and lesbian couples.

At the same time, most Americans do not consider unmarried cohabiting couples, either heterosexual or same-sex, to be a family — unless they have children.

The study seems to show that marriage makes the difference. It’s more than just a set of legal rights and privileges. In the minds of most Americans, marriage makes you a family.

add a comment »

Cause and effect

September 13, 2010, 5:03 pm | Posted by

Lately I’ve heard numerous opponents of the Park51 Islamic center invoke public opinion polls in their arguments against the project, as polling shows that a majority of Americans oppose locating the facility close to Ground Zero.

Leaving aside that we don’t have a tradition of using popular referenda about minority religions to determine where their houses of worship will be built, their argument should come with another caveat: pundits and politicians who oppose the project have engaged in a months-long campaign — based largely on innuendo, outright falsehood, fear-mongering and bigotry – to manipulate public opinion. Media Matters recently released a thorough timeline of this campaign, which stretches back to late last year

The findings, while shocking in some ways, reflect an all too familiar tactic from a conservative media echo chamber that ignores progressive and moderate voices. For example, between April and August Fox News featured 35 guests who oppose the community center, compared to 11 supporters. Guests made outrageous claims about Park51, calling it everything from an “outrage and an insult” to a “command center for terrorists.”

It’s important to acknowledge that not everyone who opposes Park51 is a bigot (although a recent Washington Post poll suggest that a majority of opponents admit to having unfavorable views of Islam). But if we’re going to have an honest dialogue, we need to admit that public opinion does not evolve in a vacuum, and that concerted misinformation campaigns are, sadly, very relevant to the debate that’s played out over the last 9 months.

add a comment »