On the event of Michael Brown’s funeral

They came from near and far, for many reasons. Some for opportunism, some for possibilities.

Over the past two weeks, many people descended on Ferguson, Missouri mostly, it seemed, to stoke the fires of resentment and divisiveness. Anger and hostility escalated. Finally, some calm has settled and reason seems to have broken out, and it deserves some keen attention.

Over the weekend, people who represented different sides of the racial battle/political debate began saying sort of the same things. Or maybe someone on one side would see that both sides actually agreed on what they wanted, though they were going about it so differently, that fundamental plea wasn’t being heard.

One moment I recall this being crystallized was when Dr. Ben Carson said on one of his many appearances on Fox News that he would welcome a discussion with Al Sharpton, who had been agitating all over the media from Ferguson for racial and social justice causes using the usual slogans, and Carson calmly said he would ask Sharpton ‘what is it that you want?’ That struck me as a good and direct potential encounter. ‘What do you want to happen? What solution are you looking for? What do you want?’

Meanwhile, I saw this piece on National Review Online and thought it reasonable and clarifying.

I’m always looking for areas where the Left and the Right can agree on a policy reform, even if it is for different reasons. One has emerged from the tragedy of Ferguson, Mo. In the aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting, many blamed some portion of the tension there on the striking racial gap between the police force, which is 94 percent white, and Ferguson’s African-American population, which makes up two-thirds of the city. Not only the police force but also the rest of the local power structure in Ferguson is dominated by whites.

Ferguson has seen enormous demographic change in the last 20 years, with the percentage of its black population growing from 25 percent to 67 percent. But five of its six city council members are still white, as is the mayor. The school board has six white members and one Hispanic.

One reason for the disparity is that, like many cities, Ferguson holds stand-alone elections for local offices in the spring of odd-numbered years when nothing else is on the ballot. Voter turnout is abysmal — 7 percent of black voters compared with 17 percent of white voters. By way of contrast, 54 percent of blacks and 55 percent of whites voted in the 2012 presidential election in Ferguson.

Existing power structures like this arrangement because it greatly favors incumbents, who can continue to dominate local bodies despite demographic change. Jeff Smith, a former Democratic state senator in Missouri who now teaches urban policy, writes that “overwhelmingly white-constituent unions (plumbers, pipe fitters, electrical workers, sprinkler fitters) have benefited from these arrangements” and that these unions operate potent voter-turnout machines that overwhelm black challengers. “The more municipal contracts an organization receives, the more generously it can fund reelection campaigns. Construction, waste, and other long-term contracts with private firms have traditionally excluded blacks from the ownership side, and, usually, the work force as well.”

Low voter turnout for off-year local elections is a problem nationwide. In Los Angeles, fewer than 12 percent of voters participated in the recent race for mayor. Policy reformers and racial minorities are among those hurt by the perpetuation of this incumbent-friendly status quo.

This is not a minor matter. It’s a major one. The disparity in representative government and positions of authority in the community that both are supposed to serve is a growing problem.

Liberals now have a reason to join conservatives in supporting a reformed election calendar. As Ian Millhiser of the liberal ThinkProgress website puts it: “Through a simple rescheduling measure, Ferguson’s black residents could permanently reshape their city’s electoral landscape so that its leaders are chosen by an electorate that more closely resembles Ferguson as a whole.”

Then on Sunday, on Fox News Sunday, Dr. Ben Carson had the chance for an encounter not with Al Sharpton, but his counterpart Jesse Jackson. I watched it, listened carefully, and was impressed with the power of persuasion of clarity with charity.

Chris Wallace pressed Jackson on his remarks that the shooting death was a “state execution.” Jackson said that the 18-year-old was shot six times and was unarmed.

But Wallace noted that reports say Brown was charging at the officer and may have hit him in the face.

“If we don’t know,” he asked, “why are we declaring a verdict?”

“It seems to me the police act as judge, jury and executioner,” Jackson said.

Carson stressed that the issues are much bigger and cannot be resolved in a short segment. Still, he said, “I’m not sure this is a police versus black community issue.”

Then an unexpected moment came, watch it if you can click on the exchange in the link.

Carson recalled his youth, during which he said he had anger issues and even tried to stab someone.

“If you take race out of the issue altogether and you take a group of young men and you raise them with no respect for authority, not learning to take on personal responsibility, having easy access to drugs and alcohol, they’re very likely to end up as victims of violence or incarceration. It has nothing to do with race,” he said. However, he noted that there are problems with race in America – yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Jackson maintained that there is a race dimension to the story.

“It seems to me that when blacks kill whites – which is rare – it’s swift justice. When whites kill blacks, it’s rebellion. When it’s black on black, there’s shrug of the shoulder, a kind of permissiveness,” he said.

Carson said people must get involved in the process and start voting.

Which gets back to the good point John Fund made in NRO, cited above. That’s moving the ball forward, that’s getting social stagnation somewhere, pointing to the process of resolution of social problems.

Carson went on in this pivotal moment.

He also said that what changed him was that his mother made him read books, and he read about people of accomplishment.

“What I came to understand is that the person who has the most to do with what happens to you in life, it’s you. It’s not the environment and it’s not somebody else. […] we must re-instill the can-do attitude in America not the ‘what can you do for me’ what ‘have you done for me’ attitude,” Carson said.

He also wound up saying he believes that he and Jackson were, essentially, saying and wanting the same things. Which kindly and gently returned to the point Carson made, days before, about wanting to ask Al Sharpton what do you want to happen? In this exchange with Jackson, it sort of came out.

And then the funeral of Michael Brown brought together a lot of people calling for change, but calmly and reasonably. There were local residents, prominent celebrities, members of Congress, representatives of the White House, civil rights leaders.

And the often polarizing, agitating, angry and unreasonable Rev. Al Sharpton delivered a eulogy that surprised a lot of folks with its reasonableness and frankness.

After a demand for broad reforms in American policing, Sharpton changed course to address his black listeners directly. “We’ve got to be straight up in our community, too,” he said. “We have to be outraged at a 9-year-old girl killed in Chicago. We have got to be outraged by our disrespect for each other, our disregard for each other, our killing and shooting and running around gun-toting each other, so that they’re justified in trying to come at us because some of us act like the definition of blackness is how low you can go.”

“Blackness has never been about being a gangster or a thug,” Sharpton continued. “Blackness was, no matter how low we was pushed down, we rose up anyhow.”

Sharpton went on to describe blacks working to overcome discrimination, to build black colleges, to establish black churches, to succeed in life. “We never surrendered,” Sharpton said. “We never gave up. And now we get to the 21st century, we get to where we’ve got some positions of power. And you decide it ain’t black no more to be successful. Now, you want to be a n—– and call your woman a ‘ho.’ You’ve lost where you’re coming from.”

The cameras cut to director Spike Lee, on his feet applauding enthusiastically. So were Martin Luther King III, radio host Tom Joyner, and, judging by video coverage, pretty much everyone else in the church. They kept applauding when Sharpton accused some blacks of having “ghetto pity parties.” And they applauded more when Sharpton finally declared: “We’ve got to clean up our community so we can clean up the United States of America!”

This was a different Al Sharpton. A new day. Not only a mention but a confrontation with problems blacks face but some refuse to face, and a calling out to everyone concerned to deal squarely with what’s wrong and what it would take to make it right.

I have addressed this time and again on radio, with respected authorities on social justice, inner city communities dealing with crime, violence, lack of educational resources, aid to families or barely subsisting relatives without intact families, legal experts, and heroic clergy and church organizations serving those communities. And will again this week.

Stay tuned.

Is Ferguson a flash point for social change?

Or another flash in the pan soon to be extinguished and forgotten?

So let’s parse that a bit further. If the sudden eruption of active protests, the descent of countless media crews, days and days of street demonstrations both peaceful and angry by both locals and outsiders, on the streets of Ferguson Missouri have collectively inflamed a national debate after the police action resulting in the shooting death of an 18 year old young black man, is it a confrontation with racism seething beneath the surface of our society still? Or is it something deeper? And if that, then what is it about, at root?

On the surface, a lot of news reporting has covered it as racial tension erupting yet again though ever present in communities like Ferguson, emblematic of small towns and communities and inner city neighborhoods across the country. I’ve been watching, listening, reading, following and closely considering it all as it has grown over the past week or more and especially as it’s developed into a national spectacle and standoff between angry citizens and their sympathizers on one side and law enforcement and state authorities on the other. Though everyone turning up in Ferguson doesn’t neatly fall into one of those categories, especially the whole media class adding to the confluence of events devolving there by the day and especially, at night. Every night but one, since it all began.

My default mode is the question ‘What’s the truth?’ And furthermore: ‘Who did what and why? What’s happening right now as a consequence? And who is authoritative enough to answer these questions honestly?’

There are layers of answers, and it will take a while to peel them off.

Here are two articles that capture some of that complexity.

NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote this for Time online, asserting that it’s not ultimately about race as much as social inequality.

By focusing on just the racial aspect, the discussion becomes about whether Michael Brown’s death—or that of the other three unarmed black men who were killed by police in the U.S. within that month—is about discrimination or about police justification. Then we’ll argue about whether there isn’t just as much black-against-white racism in the U.S. as there is white-against-black. (Yes, there is. But, in general, white-against-black economically impacts the future of the black community. Black-against-white has almost no measurable social impact.)…

This fist-shaking of everyone’s racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor. Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this misperception is true even among the poor…

That’s a statement worth exploring further, as most everything he says here is. Exploring at book length, frankly, because race and class warfare keeps flaring up in these flash points before settling back into an uneasy and dysfunctional coexistence, without addressing essential causes for social breakdown and advancing remedies.

And so it continues:

The middle class has to join the poor and whites have to join African-Americans in mass demonstrations, in ousting corrupt politicians, in boycotting exploitative businesses, in passing legislation that promotes economic equality and opportunity, and in punishing those who gamble with our financial future.

Otherwise, all we’re going to get is what we got out of Ferguson: a bunch of politicians and celebrities expressing sympathy and outrage. If we don’t have a specific agenda—a list of exactly what we want to change and how—we will be gathering over and over again beside the dead bodies of our murdered children, parents, and neighbors.

Exactly. My thoughts exactly a couple of years ago when a protest was organized in Chicago as an outcry against violence on the streets with homicides hitting new levels and young people killing young people and anybody caught in the crossfire of random shootings, including innocent little children. This is my town, and the politicians who have run it for so long are people in high places with power and influence, and where are they when these protests are held? Speaker after speaker takes the podium and calls out for help and resolution, community leaders deploring the violence and despair in their neighborhoods and working by all means to aid and protect the people they serve.

Church leaders across different faiths, denominations and congregations are working in coalition to build up those communities, provide services, safety, education, a way out of despair and violence. But where are the politicians?

That gets to the other article, one that addresses questions I’ve been asking. NRO’s Kevin Williamson asks ‘Who Lost the Cities?’

The Reverend Jesse Jackson is, to the surprise of all thinking people, right about something: “A spark has exploded,” he said, referring to the protests and violence in Ferguson, Mo. “When you look at what sparked riots in the Sixties, it has always been some combination of poverty, which was the fuel, and then some oppressive police tactic. It was the same in Newark, in Chicago, in Detroit, in Los Angeles. It’s symptomatic of a national crisis of urban abandonment and repression, seen in Chicago.”

A question for the Reverend Jackson: Who has been running the show in Newark, in Chicago, in Detroit, and in Los Angeles for a great long while now? The answer is: People who see the world in much the same way as does the Reverend Jackson, who take the same view of government, who support the same policies, and who suffer from the same biases.

…the more important and more fundamental question here is one of philosophy and policy. Newark, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles — and Philadelphia, Cleveland, and a dozen or more other cities — have a great deal in common: They are the places in which the progressive vision of government has reached its fullest expressions. They are the hopeless reality that results from wishful thinking.

Ferguson was hardly a happy suburban garden spot until the shooting of Michael Brown. Ferguson is about two-thirds black, and 28 percent of those black residents live below the poverty line. The median income is well below the Missouri average, and Missouri is hardly the nation’s runaway leader in economic matters. More than 60 percent of the births in the city of St. Louis (and about 40 percent in St. Louis County) are out of wedlock.

My reporting over the past few years has taken me to Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, St. Louis and the nearby community of East St. Louis, Ill., Philadelphia, Detroit, Stockton, San Francisco, and a great many other cities, and the Reverend Jackson is undoubtedly correct in identifying “a national crisis of urban abandonment and repression.” He neglects to point out that he is an important enabler of it.

This gets to core, root problems causing social dysfunction and the breakdown of societies basic foundation.

For years, our major cities were undermined by a confluence of four unhappy factors: 1. higher taxes; 2. defective schools; 3. crime; 4. declining economic opportunity. Together, these weighed much more heavily upon the middle class than upon the very wealthy and the very poor.

Though they weigh heavily upon the poor, and more of them are giving up on ‘the system’ they believed would take care of them, especially for the past many years.

Progressives spent a generation imposing taxes and other expenses on urban populations as though the taxpaying middle class would not relocate…They imposed policies that disincentivized stable family arrangements as though doing so would have no social cost.

And they did so while adhering to a political philosophy that holds that the state, not the family or the market, is the central actor in our lives, that the interests of private parties — be they taxpayers or businesses — can and indeed must be subordinated to the state’s interests, as though individuals and families were nothing more than gears in the great machine of politics. The philosophy of abusive eminent domain, government monopolies, and opportunistic taxation is also the philosophy of police brutality, the repression of free speech and other constitutional rights, and economic despair…When life is reduced to the terms in which it is lived in the poorest and most neglected parts of Chicago or Detroit, the welfare state is the police state. Why should we expect the agents of the government who carry guns and badges to be in general better behaved than those at the IRS or the National Labor Relations Board? We have city councils that conduct their affairs in convenient secrecy and put their own interests above those of the communities that they allege to serve, and yet we naïvely think that when that self-serving process is used to hire a police commissioner or to organize a police department, then we’ll get saints and Einsteins out of all that muck.

There’s convergence here between Williamson and Abdul-Jabbar, actually.

Our cities need economic growth and opportunity, functional education systems, and physical security.

Unless the Revs. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Jeremiah Wright, mayors and governors and former Chicago South Side community organizer Barack Obama  listen to the Reverends in the inner city churches taking care of the people most in need, knowing them by name, providing through their charities for the fatherless children who need classrooms and school books, doing outreach to the angry young men who have given up looking for jobs, Ferguson will fade from the front pages without causing social change. And meanwhile, Chicago’s shootings and those in Detroit and New York and other US cities will continue to be statistics.

The president says he is watching closely. So are we.

Cycling champion’s ‘Road to Valor’

With the Tour de France just completed and the Olympics about to begin, many fans around the world are focused on sports celebrities and aspiring champions and stars all too often called heroes for excelling in athlethics. Let’s take a closer look at the true story of a man who deserves to be honored as all of the above.

I discovered it, thankfully, in the masterful book written by the brother sister team Andres and Aili McConnon, about the life and heroism of Gino Bartali.

Let your virtues expand to fill this sad situation: Glory ascends the heights by a precipitous path.

Who would have known of Hector, if Troy had been happy?

The road to valor is built by adversity.

-Ovid, Tristia

What a perfect title, Road to Valor. Anybody fighting the terrain and sometimes hazardous racecourse and natural elements of the three weeks of the Tour or any other cycling championship achieves a certain level of command over adversity. But who has added to that the challenge of secretly saving endangered lives and escaping the dangers of detection except for Bartali?

What a story. The publicist release has to summarize a lot:

Set in Italy and France against the turbulent backdrop of an unforgiving sport and threatening politics, Road to Valor: A True Story of World War II Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation is the breathtaking account of one man’s unsung heroism and his resilience in the face of adversity…

At the age of 24, he stuns the world by winning his first tour de France and quickly becomes an international sports icon.

After Mussolini’s Fascists try to hijack Bartali’s victory for propaganda purposes and as the Nazis occupy Italy, Bartali, a devout Catholic, becomes involved in the Italian resistance and undertakes dangerous missions to help those being targeted. In addition to sheltering a family of four Jews in an apartment he financed with his cycling winnings, Bartali smuggles counterfeit identity documents past Fascist and Nazi checkpoints. Recognizing him simply as a national hero in training, the soldiers never suspect he’s hiding precious papers in the hollow frame of his bicycle, documents that helped save countless Jews hiding in Tuscany and Umbria from deportation to to work and death camps.

But that’s not all.

In 1948, the stakes are raised…Despite numerous setbacks and a legendary snowstorm in the Alps, the chain-smoking, Chianti-loving, 34-year-old underdog comes back and wins the most difficult endurance competition on earth.

Elie Wiesel recommends this gripping true account with these words:

‘Thou shall not stand idly by’ is a powerful Biblical command. In [the McConnon’s] book it offers a moving example of moral courage. A simple citizen and great athlete chose to oppose a cruel and racist political dictatorship by saving Jewish victims in Italy. Was it so hard to become a hero then? It was enough–enough to remain human.

Among many other accolades, Cardinal Timothy Dolan added this:

Part sports biography, part real-life action adventure, Road to Valor is the remarkable true account of a man whose Catholic faith inspired his greatest achievements.

And author Fred Plotkin says:

This book is a magnificent ride through the uphill-downhill-uphill story of Gino Bartali. It inspires anyone who tenaciously holds to doing what is just, no matter how difficult, in the face of ignorance and terror. Bartali is a hero for all times.

Having just followed most every stage of the 2012 Tour de France, and about to engage the 2012 Olympics, in the year when the freedom to exercise a religiously informed conscience about social justice is most seriously challenged, I really appreciate the fortifying story and the witness of Gino Bartali.

Obama tests faith boundaries

He won election with a slim majority of Catholic voters because enough progressives believed his policies aligned with social justice mandates of the Gospel. He just lost them with a mandate of his own.

The case his Department of Justice took before the Supreme Court was an audacious opening salvo. Now, his administration has launched an all-out assault on the church and believers and sympathizers.

Of the barrage of columns and articles and blog posts and commentaries on this, there are a few that stand out starkly for saying Obama’s Left Catholics. They deserve attention.

Ross Douthat in the New York Times:

When government expands, it’s often at the expense of alternative expressions of community, alternative groups that seek to serve the common good. Unlike most communal organizations, the government has coercive power — the power to regulate, to mandate and to tax. These advantages make it all too easy for the state to gradually crowd out its rivals…

Sometimes this crowding out happens gradually, subtly, indirectly. Every tax dollar the government takes is a dollar that can’t go to charities and churches. Every program the government runs, from education to health care to the welfare office, can easily become a kind of taxpayer-backed monopoly.

But sometimes the state goes further. Not content with crowding out alternative forms of common effort, it presents its rivals an impossible choice: Play by our rules, even if it means violating the moral ideals that inspired your efforts in the first place, or get out of the community-building business entirely.

This is exactly the choice that the White House has decided to offer a host of religious institutions — hospitals, schools and charities — in the era of Obamacare. The new health care law requires that all employer-provided insurance plans cover contraception, sterilization and the morning-after (or week-after) pill known as ella, which can work as an abortifacient. A number of religious groups, led by the American Catholic bishops, had requested an exemption for plans purchased by their institutions. Instead, the White House has settled on an exemption that only covers religious institutions that primarily serve members of their own faith.

Which absolutely everyone except HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius knows is not an exemption at all, nor even a fig leaf. It’s a sham.

The regulations are a particularly cruel betrayal of Catholic Democrats, many of whom had defended the health care law as an admirable fulfillment of Catholicism’s emphasis on social justice. Now they find that their government’s communitarianism leaves no room for their church’s communitarianism, and threatens to regulate it out of existence.

Critics of the administration’s policy are framing this as a religious liberty issue, and rightly so. But what’s at stake here is bigger even than religious freedom. The Obama White House’s decision is a threat to any kind of voluntary community that doesn’t share the moral sensibilities of whichever party controls the health care bureaucracy.

The Catholic Church’s position on contraception is not widely appreciated, to put it mildly, and many liberals are inclined to see the White House’s decision as a blow for the progressive cause. They should think again. Once claimed, such powers tend to be used in ways that nobody quite anticipated, and the logic behind these regulations could be applied in equally punitive ways by administrations with very different values from this one.

This is exceptionally keen insight on this ominous affront to sensibilities. Not to mention constitutionally protected liberties.

Michael Gerson in the Washington Post.

Catholic leaders are still trying to process the implications of this ambush. The president had every opportunity to back down from confrontation. In the recent ­Hosanna-Tabor ruling, a unanimous Supreme Court reaffirmed a broad religious autonomy right rooted in the Constitution. Obama could have taken the decision as justification for retreat.

And it would have been a minor retreat. The administration was on the verge of mandating nearly universal contraceptive coverage through Obamacare without public notice. There would have been no controversy at all if President Obama had simply exempted religious institutions and ministries. But the administration insisted that the University of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s Hospital be forced to pay for the privilege of violating their convictions.

Obama chose to substantially burden a religious belief, by the most intrusive means, for a less-than-compelling state purpose — a marginal increase in access to contraceptives that are easily available elsewhere. The religious exemption granted by Obamacare is narrower than anywhere else in federal law — essentially covering the delivery of homilies and the distribution of sacraments. Serving the poor and healing the sick are regarded as secular pursuits — a determination that would have surprised Christianity’s founder.

That’s not at all a stretch. As many have pointed out, this so-called ‘exemption’ wouldn’t even apply to Jesus.

But Gerson gets even more scathing.

Both radicalism and maliciousness are at work in Obama’s decision — an edict delivered with a sneer. It is the most transparently anti-Catholic maneuver by the federal government since the Blaine Amendment was proposed in 1875…

The implications of Obama’s choice will take years to sort through. The immediate impact can be measured on three men:

Consider Catholicism’s most prominent academic leader, the Rev. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame. Jenkins took a serious risk in sponsoring Obama’s 2009 honorary degree and commencement address — which promised a “sensible” approach to the conscience clause. Jenkins now complains, “This is not the kind of ‘sensible’ approach the president had in mind when he spoke here.” Obama has made Jenkins — and other progressive Catholic allies — look easily duped.

Consider Catholicism’s highest-ranking elected official, Vice President Biden. Biden had encouraged engagement with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on conscience rights. Now he will be remembered as the Catholic cover for the violation of Catholic conscience. Betrayal is always an inside job.

Consider Catholicism’s most prominent clerical leader, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, head of the Conference of Catholic Bishops. Dolan had pursued a policy of engagement with the administration. In November, he met face to face with Obama, who was earnestly reassuring on conscience protections. On Jan. 20, during a less-cordial phone conversation, Obama informed Dolan that no substantial concession had been made. How can Dolan make the argument for engagement now?

The implications of Obama’s power grab go further than contraception and will provoke opposition beyond Catholicism. Christian colleges and universities of various denominations will resist providing insurance coverage for abortifacients. And the astounding ambition of this federal precedent will soon be apparent to every religious institution. Obama is claiming the executive authority to determine which missions of believers are religious and which are not — and then to aggressively regulate institutions the government declares to be secular. It is a view of religious liberty so narrow and privatized that it barely covers the space between a believer’s ears.

It is a deservedly blistering analysis, in the end.

The administration’s ultimate motivation is uncertain. Has it adopted a radical secularism out of conviction, or is it cynically appealing to radical secularists? In either case, the war on religion is now formally declared.

But it has produced a perhaps-not-foreseen upshot. Already.

Elizabeth Scalia explains.

With the administration’s decision, the covert culture of death has finally made a truly overt move against the culture of life. On one side, there is cheering. “Women’s groups” are happy. Anti-religionists, particularly those with an animus toward the Catholic church, are nearly delirious. On the other side, there is a grimness that is interesting in its unity, particularly as it is playing out in Catholic media. The furor of more conservative Catholics is unremarkable, but the reactions of the so-called “progressive” church may surprise some for the intensity of their disappointment. At the National Catholic Reporter Michael Sean Winters—furious on behalf of those Catholics who “took some punches” for the sake of President Obama—declares he cannot, in good conscience, cast another vote Obamaward. He now suggests that the bishops chain themselves to the White House fence in order to bring attention to the direct assault this administration is making against the church’s constitutional right to its own conscience—its right to be what it is.

Before anyone on the ‘right’ goes off blaming their left-leaning co-religionists who helped usher this administration into power, consider:

…the laity—divided for decades on issues ranging from felt-banners to dress to dogma—has found a line in the sand upon which they can come together; “conservative” Catholics are reassured to see their more “progressive” brethren defending the church’s right to be who and what she is; more “progressive” Catholics may be coming to realize that—as relentlessly single-minded as some of their opponents could be—had they not held the line all these years, much could be crumbling at this moment.

Now is the time for all good Catholics to come to the aid of providers—the schools, hospitals, charities, and soup kitchens who serve communities in need without asking affiliations. And, in coming together, perhaps now is the time to ponder their long-held presumptions, each about the other, and broaden our own outreach as well.

If nothing else, in declaring war against our consciences, the Obama administration has given American Catholics a great gift of clarification; a fractious family we may be, but—as the saying goes—we are church. And we have the right to be who we are.

By God.

‘You will know they are Christians by their love’

Actually, they’re divided. And it’s not so much a Protestant/Catholic tension but a divide within the Catholic Church itself. This is not news. And it’s not necessary or at all organic. The ‘peace and social justice crowd’ competes with the ‘pro-life crowd’ in the Church, as if it’s ‘either/or’ instead of ‘both/and’

This has been going on for decades and pervaded politics prominently when John F. Kennedy ran for president. Since then, the politics have morphed into segments of both political parties reflecting segments of the Church as either the Democratic or Republican Party at prayer.

Catholic World Report focused on this, and that’s good because the more light shed on the false dichotomy…the better. 

The phrase “social justice,” when invoked by members of the Catholic left, is a euphemism for the agenda of the Democratic Party. “Social justice” refers not to objective principles of justice but to specific policies of Democrats on health care, labor, welfare, and other matters…

Always late to an awareness that its trendy enthusiasms are no longer trendy, the Catholic left simply hadn’t anticipated the wave of anti-Obama feeling that swept over the country in 2010. Particularly galling to members of the Catholic left is that the Catholic vote contributed to the backlash and appears to be slipping away from the Democrats. In 2008, 55 percent of Catholics voted for the Democratic ticket. In 2010, 54 percent of Catholics voted for Republicans.

So look at how that change played out in terms of Congress…

The US House of Representatives has passed from a pro-abortion Catholic speaker in Nancy Pelosi to a pro-life Catholic speaker in John Boehner. The House added many new pro-lifers and supporters of traditional marriage to its ranks while dropping numerous supporters of abortion rights and the “gay” agenda.

“Pro-choice” Catholic Democrats suffered heavy losses, as did many of the self-styled “pro-life” Democrats who compromised on Obama’s morally dubious health care bill.

The so-called Stupak Democrats didn’t even gain a single election, let alone the world, from their compromise. By choosing party power over principle, they put themselves into a position to lose both.

“Pro-choice” Democrats tried hard to retain the Catholic vote through the usual claim that the Democratic Party, despite its support for abortion rights and other violations of the natural law, is “better” on the Church’s “social justice concerns” than the Republicans. But this year that “seamless garment” unraveled.

Ah, there it is again. I bring this up at most of my speaking engagements, because so few Catholics – and even religion reporters who should know their material – understand this oft-cited but little understood principle. Originated by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Archbishop of Chicago, it was a teaching he intended as the ‘consistent ethic of life.’

It’s time for a re-read:

The case being made here is not a condemnation of either politics or technology, but a recognition with the Pope that, on a range of key issues, “it is only through a conscious choice and through a deliberate policy that humanity can be saved.” That quote from the Holy Father has unique relevance to nuclear war, but it can be used creatively to address other threats to life.

The range of application is all too evident: nuclear war threatens life on a previously unimaginable scale; abortion takes life daily on a horrendous scale; public executions are fast becoming weekly events in the most advanced technological society in history; and euthanasia is now openly discussed and even advocated. Each of these assaults on life has its own meaning and morality; they cannot be collapsed into one problem, but they must be confronted as pieces of a larger pattern.

The reason I have placed such stress on the idea of a consistent ethic of life from the beginning of my term as chairman of the Pro-Life Committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops is twofold: I am persuaded by the interrelatedness of these diverse problems, and I am convinced that the Catholic moral vision has the scope, the strength and the subtlety to address this wide range of issues in an effective fashion. It is precisely the potential of our moral vision that is often not recognized even within the community of the Church. The case for a consistent ethic of life—one which stands for the protection of the right to life and the promotion of the rights which enhance life from womb to tomb—manifests the positive potential of the Catholic moral and social tradition.

It is both a complex and a demanding tradition; it joins the humanity of the unborn infant and the humanity of the hungry; it calls for positive legal action to prevent the killing of the unborn or the aged and positive societal action to provide shelter for the homeless and education for the illiterate. The potential of the moral and social vision is appreciated in a new way when the systemic vision of Catholic ethics is seen as the background for the specific positions we take on a range of issues.

In response to those who fear otherwise, I contend that the systemic vision of a consistent ethic of life will not erode our crucial public opposition to the direction of the arms race; neither will it smother our persistent and necessary public opposition to abortion. The systemic vision is rooted in the conviction that our opposition to these distinct problems has a common foundation and that both Church and society are served by making it evident.

Time and time again.