For millennia, faith-based principles have attempted to guide the forces of war and peace between powers and nations. I challenge any Catholic or other Christian – or any person of good will, for that matter – to educate yourself on some of these philosophical and theological principles. We do not subscribe to any version of “might makes right” or “my country, right or wrong.” We must hold our leaders and military to strict standards that reflect our deepest values.
Today's post from Bondings 2.0, On the USCCB's Fifth (And Hopefully Final) "Fortnight For Freedom", prompted me to re-read Dignitatis Humanae [DH], the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom. After all, if the bishops or others think that religious liberty and the free exercise of religion are under attack in the US, one would think we should be looking to this important document for guidance.
DH clearly and strongly promotes the rights of individuals and social groups "… to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits."
The bishops' concern that religious persons and institutions might be forced by the government to act in a way that is coercive and violates their "own beliefs" clearly finds some support here. However, that nasty 3-word phrase at the end puts a different slant on things: "within due limits." Several times DH references the "just order of society" and the "due limits" on one's religious freedom. Perhaps the clearest statement is in Article 7, which begins:
"The right to religious freedom is exercised in human society: hence its exercise is subject to certain regulatory norms. In the use of all freedoms the moral principle of personal and social responsibility is to be observed. In the exercise of their rights, individual men [sic] and social groups are bound by the moral law to have respect both for the rights of others and for their own duties toward others and for the common welfare of all. Men are to deal with their fellows in justice and civility."
While the bishops and other "religious freedom" advocates look with limited vision to the US Constitution, they seem to have forgotten the teachings of their own Tradition. DH reminds us of the "due limits" and "regulatory norms" which a just and civil society must enact to ensure the "rights of others" are respected. The bishops' original concern related to healthcare, though quickly was extended to the area of LGBT rights. The US Supreme Court has decided to hear a case from Colorado about the refusal by the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack Phillips, to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Phillips cited his disapproval of same-sex marriage, which he claims to be rooted in his Christian faith, as the reason.
From a Catholic teaching perspective, it'd be quite a stretch to say that the baking of a wedding cake rises to the level of a "religious act" worthy of protection. If it did, then where would it end? In theory, no end would be in sight. After all, any religious person who takes faith seriously would try to express his/her religious values in all aspect of life, right? If that's true, what's to stop said religious person from hiding behind such "religious freedom protections" for any and all acts in which he engages?
As the bishops of Vatican II rightly recognized, civil society has the obligation to impose due limits and appropriate regulatory norms on the exercise of religious freedom. Such limits and norms must respect the rights of ALL citizens. As we celebrate today 241 years of independence from political tyranny, may we be always strive to be free from tyranny of all stripes, even when wrapped in red, white and blue.
This week has been hard.
Taking a brief 3-day cruise that began last Sunday, we were at sea and “off the grid” for the final days of the recent election. I did not sleep Tuesday evening, tossing and turning and praying all night. By 6 am we had arrived within sight of Port Everglades and cellular service was returning. While following my morning routine of going to the Deck 5 coffee shop, I was able to get a ful cellular signal. I opened the Washington Post app on my phone and saw the words, “Trump Triumphs.” I felt ill; I sat down for a few moments in the empty lounge I was passing through. I returned to our stateroom (sans cappucino) to share the news with my partner. I don’t think I’m revealing too much when I say that we cried. It remains unfathomable to me how anyone — including some family and friends — could have voted for a man who seems to be without moral compass and whose campaign brought out the worst in the human spirit. This Huffington Post commentary expresses what I and so many millions of Americans are feeling. As commentator Jennifer Sullivan writes, “The entire Trump/Pence ticket’s platform revolves around making other individuals be made to feel less than. It is divisive. It is harmful. And it stands in stark opposition to every ideal this country was founded upon.” For me, the enduring feeling — as someone on Facebook stated — is as if my neighbors, my family, my friends voted against me.
It Is What It Is
One of the essential elements of mental and spiritual health is the ability to live in reality. And so I recognize and accept what is. Tuesday cannot be undone. Our quirky Electoral College system that allows someone who came in 2nd to be named the winner cannot be retroactively changed. One hundred million voters who decided their vote didn’t count cannot now cast their ballots and have their voices heard, too.
The only option we have is to move forward, reminding ourselves daily of the values we hold most dear and how those values impact our daily lives and daily choices. Like the demonstrators above who were not afraid to demonstrate for peace on the grounds of the US Capitol, we too must find ways of ensuring that our voices are heard in the public square — whenever and however we can.
Again, this has been a tough week. But I took comfort this morning from this passage in Richard Rohr’s Everything Belongs (p. 132).
“Again I quote beloved Julian of Norwich in her famous thirteenth Showing. ‘In fear and trembling,’ she asked Jesus, ‘O good Lord, how can all be well when great harm has come to your creatures through sin? And here I wanted, if I dared, to have some clearer explanation to put my mind at rest.’ And he said, ‘Since I have brought good out of the worst-ever evil, I want you to know by this; that I shall bring good out of all the lesser evils, too.'”
Or, as Julian is famously quoted: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
“‘I Alone’: Trump’s Dangerous Authoritarianism” (Commonweal Magazine Editorial)Do you support Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump? Do you plan on giving him your vote when you enter the voting booth come November? If you do, do yourself and your fellow Americans a favor. Take five minutes and read the editorial from Commonweal linked above. As you do, ask yourself if you really and truly believe in the ideals and principles of American Constitutional Democracy. Ask yourself if you believe in the principles that distinguish the United States from monarchies and oligarchies and theocracies and dictatorships. Ask yourself if you understand what separates American Constitutional Democracy from Fascism, Nazism, and even from anarchy. Ask yourself if “justice for all” and “checks and balances” and “E Pluribus Unum” are more than slogans, but have real meaning for this country we all cherish. Ask yourself these questions, because at some point, this presidential election becomes not about him (or her), but about us. Your vote, my vote, will say more about ourselves than it will about the person for whom we vote.
Please read the full editorial. But if you don’t read the full piece, the last paragraph sums it up:
“I alone. That is how Trump promises to govern: as an authoritarian who trusts his instincts and refuses to be bothered by Washington’s outdated constraints, otherwise known as checks and balances. And that is exactly what too many of his supporters seem to want. During Trump’s speech at the convention, as he shouted his way from one grandiose promise or ominous threat to another, the assembled delegates—whipped up into a braying mob—could be heard chanting ‘YES YOU CAN!’ This is not what democracy looks like.”
From the perspective of Christian faith, it’s hard to imagine a more stark study in contrasts than that between the recently announced presidential/vice-presidential teams. Tim Kaine gave a rousing speech yesterday (July 23, 2016) when he appeared for the first time after being chosen by Hillary Clinton as her running mate. Kaine proudly declared, “Soy católico … I’m Catholic…” and his speech was filled with explicit references that show how deeply his Catholic Christian faith has formed his values and directed his life’s work. Kaine impresses as profoundly influenced by his Jesuit education, his missionary work in Honduras, and his commitment to the teachings of Jesus as a lawyer who worked to defend the housing rights of the poor. The Clinton/Kaine duo proclaim that their lives were formed by a faith that asked how they could help others. It is a faith that puts belief into practice, living out the social, communal dimension that Christianity absolutely requires.
Trump/Pence, on the other hand, seem to be much more formed by or comfortable with the so-called “Prosperity Gospel” (an oxymoron if ever their was one). While there are some Christian leaders in the Evangelical tradition who recognize that this “gospel” is an aberration of historical, biblical Christianity, there are many others who have succumbed to its allure. This philosophy is uniquely American. It is the spawn of the marriage between 19th century Protestant fundamentalism and that brand of American individualism which puts the self before others, the individual before community, and one’s own success ahead of or at the expense of others’ success. Its focus is on “my rights” and not the common good. To be clear, this focus on the “rights” of the individual can be exploited on either end of the political spectrum. It’s the same right espoused by gun-owners, abortion advocates, and the increasing number of laws that permit assisted suicide. At its root, the “Prosperity Gospel” makes two basic claims: First, if your faith is strong enough, God will shower you with earthly riches, wealth, and worldly success; and, second, if you have earthly riches, wealth, and worldly success, then these are signs of God’s favor.
Perhaps it does need to be stated, but this view of the Christian Gospel — preached by such megachurch leaders as Joel Osteen (who, by the way, has no theological training) and Joyce Meyer — bears so little resemblance to the actual teachings of Jesus that it cannot be rightly called Christian. It is a “gospel” without humility, without prudence, without a sense of justice. It lacks a belief that the goods of this earth are for all God’s People, not just the industrious few who stake their claim first, whose might trumps right, or who know how to manipulate the economic and legal systems to their advantage. On the contrary, as Pope Pius XI wrote in his encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (1931),
“Therefore, the riches that economic-social developments constantly increase ought to be so distributed among individual persons and classes that the common advantage of all, which Leo XIII had praised, will be safeguarded; in other words, that the common good of all society will be kept inviolate. By this law of social justice, one class is forbidden to exclude the other from sharing in the benefits,” (no. 57).
To anyone schooled in the social justice tradition of Christianity in general and Catholic Christianity in particular, this quotation will ring true. Pius XI’s reference to his predecessor, Leo XIII, is a reference to that pope’s encyclical, Rerum Novarum, which is generally considered the first papal document in modern times to spell out some of the basic principles Christian faith requires for a socially just society. From the perspective of Christianity and its two-thousand year tradition, there is no doubt that the Gospel of Jesus does not exist without Jesus’ “new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (John 13:34). Come November, each of us must decide which of these two teams contending for the highest offices in the land have lived lives that most exemplify the common good the Gospel requires.
I am now of an age where some contemporaries from my seminary years (1981-1987) are now bishops. I was curious to know what response, if any, they had offered in the aftermath of what is becoming known as the Orlando Tragedy.
In the days after the June 12th massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, many American bishops issued statements condemning this act of senseless violence that resulted in the deaths of 50 souls (including the shooter) and injuries to more than 50 other innocents. Invariably, these bishops called for prayers for the victims, their families, as well as first responders and others who provided care to those affected. A very small number of bishops went further. These brave pastoral leaders — notably Bishop Robert Lynch of neighboring St. Petersburg, Florida — not only recognized that this attack took place in a gay bar, but he also stated that religion, including Catholicism, must take responsibility and make amends for the religious roots of homophobia.
The strengths and shortcomings of bishops’ statements are thoroughly described not only in the national Catholic Press (cf. Robert Mickens, Church statements keep the door closed on gays), but especially through the thoughtful blogging of New Ways Ministry (cf. Bondings 2.0 posts for June 2016).
“What words,” I wondered, “had Chris Coyne offered to the people in his diocese of Burlington, VT?” Chris was one year ahead of me at St. John’s Seminary in Boston. He was ordained in 1986 and I the following year. While we were acquaintances to the degree that one “knows” anyone in a seminary community where its members live and eat and study and pray together, we were not close. Chris was outgoing, gregarious, smart, and he was socially friendly with a number of faculty members that made it evident he knew how to make his presence known, even in the small system of a Catholic seminary. In the years since he became a bishop, Chris has been very active on social media. Not only does he have his own website and blog (BishopCoyne.org), he is quite active on Facebook and is on Twitter daily.
This past Sunday, I checked the official website of the Diocese of Burlington and, sure enough, there was Chris’s statement Regarding the Tragedy in Orlando. Unlike Lynch and others, including Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego and Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago, Chris took the easier path. Disappointed in his words, especially his failure to recognize that this attack was an assault on the LGBT community, I decided to write to Chris. I did so privately, through his website.
Here’s what I wrote:
I doubt you remember me, Chris, but we were in the seminary together at St. John’s (I was ordained in 1987). I’m writing to you directly (I presume?) simply to let you know that, while it was good of you to make a statement about the recent tragedy in Orlando, I was disappointed that you did not choose to recognize that this particular act of violence was against a specific community. There is no doubt that, whatever elements may have been at play in the shooter’s mind or worldview, he chose to attack a gay night club and the majority of those who died or were injured would identify as LGBT. The fact that you and so many of your brother bishops — with a few notable exceptions — chose not even to mention this salient fact in your statement simply re-traumatizes those of us who continue to hold on to our Catholic faith, while also being true to ourselves as God created us. We look to Church leaders who — as I’m sure you remember Bishop Daily never tired of saying — act “in persona Christi,” to be the presence of the Lord, especially in the midst of tragedy, sadness, grief and despair. I don’t know what your relationship is to the LGBT community in Vermont, but I hope you are able to recognize that God’s LGBT children are also part of the flock you are called to shepherd.
May God bless you, Chris. Peace!
The following day, here’s the reply I received (in its entirety):
Thank you for your communication and the opinions it contains.
Needless to say, I was taken aback by the response’s brevity, and its failure to address my concern in any way, let alone address me, personally. Some with whom I privately shared the email exchange wonder if it’s an “auto-response.” Given that it did not come immediately upon submission, I doubt this is the case.
For three days I have prayed about whether I should post this or not. I know, after all, that part of me is angry; and action taken solely in anger is rarely helpful. My decision to post is not meant to shame or embarrass Bishop Coyne. I’m sure he is a good man with a good heart who does many good things for the local Church he serves. But if we do not call leaders to task, then who can we blame when the change we seek does not come about? The change I hope and pray for is one where the Church and her leaders recognize and embrace the full diversity of all God’s People. I hope and pray for a Church where every diocese and parish fully welcomes all — regardless of race or gender or age or orientation or status or disability — bound together only by our common faith. Yes, I am angered and saddened by the impersonal response I received, which caused me to feel dismissed and unheard. But, I am also hopeful — for without faith and hope, what else is there?