Public Faith: An Interview with Michael Wear

kjyffPublic Faith is a new organization for “Christians who share a commitment to orthodox Christian faith and a belief in working toward the common good through politics towards a just and flourishing society.” One of the founding members is Michael Wear, the Founder of Public Square Strategies LLC, and the author of the forthcoming book Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America. Millennial editor Robert Christian interviewed Wear on Public Faith:

How did Public Faith come together, and what was the impetus for creating it?

Public Faith came together as a result of a shared sense that there is a broad swath of Christians out there who do not feel represented in our politics–they feel alone. And yet they are not content to withdraw from politics. They’re looking for solidarity with other faithful Christians who agree on core implications of Christian teaching for our politics, and to join their voices with others to influence our politics. This is very much the concrete reality of how Alan Noble and I started to discuss the idea of Public Faith. As we developed the idea we consulted with others, many of whom are our Founding Members, and decided this was a key moment to step out and offer a different vision of politics in what is a very cynical environment.

The mission statement calls for strengthening efforts to combat poverty and advance human rights around the world. With ‘America First’ and similar nationalistic and isolationist sentiments seemingly on the rise, why it is important for Christians to stand up for these types of global efforts?

As Christians, we recognize the dignity of every human being, not just Americans. We have been blessed as a people and as a nation with great resources and a great responsibility comes with that. We have an obligation as individuals, through our churches and charities, and yes, through our politics, to advocate for and come to the aid of those who are suffering. I’d also just add that as people like Michael Gerson, Brian Grim, and former USAID Administrator Raj Shah have so persuasively pointed out, global poverty and human rights violations have real economic and national security implications for our nation that require our attention.

In most of the world, climate change is not a partisan or ideologically divisive issue, like it is in the United States. Is there a role for Christians to play in breaking the deadlock on this issue here in the US?

Of course there is, and we can do this by offering a narrative that affirms neither the narrative of complacency on one side, nor the narrative of scarcity and materialism that is represented by others in this conversation. This world is God’s, He made it, and we have a responsibility to be good stewards of it. In other parts of the world, climate change is not partisan because its consequences are so apparent and threatening. Read More

Donald Trump’s Supporters and the Banality of Evil

A few days ago, I watched a video that I found, perhaps surprisingly, very disturbing.  There was no bloodshed–no violence of any kind–nor was anyone verbally abused.  No animals, even, were harmed in the making of it.  In fact, the video was meant to be humorous.  It was a Triumph the Insult Comedy Dog special, produced by Funny or Die, in which a group of Donald Trump supporters is pranked.  If you aren’t one of the two and a half million people who’ve already seen it, it’s worth taking fifteen minutes of your time to watch.

The premise of the prank, designed by Triumph’s creator and voice Robert Smigel, was to attempt to trick members of a Trump focus group with fake campaign ads.  As Smigel told Variety‘s “PopPolitics” on Sirius XM, “All we were really hoping for is that they would believe that the ads were real. That was the goal, to fool them, and give the piece some added life by seeing people just react honestly to it.”

The group’s reactions are certainly honest.  They earnestly discuss–and voice their almost unqualified approval for–every idea, from installing gun dispensers in women’s bathrooms to forcing “150 million Mexicans” into shock collars to building “four-star abortion resorts” in economically depressed areas.  Though there are a few bemused expressions as the participants view the phony commercials, and at one point a woman does appear to object to late-term abortions (though she fails to elucidate exactly where the line should be drawn), they neither reject the proposals nor express doubt as to their authenticity.  One man, remarking on a plan to lock Mexican immigrants in Porta Potties and transport them across the border on trucks, compares Donald Trump to the illustrious inventors of the lightbulb and iPhone.

I knew the video was supposed to be funny, but I didn’t feel at all like laughing as I watched it.  I felt more like cringing, or crying, or throwing up.  When it was over, I sat in stunned silence for a minute or two before calling my husband into the room.  “You’ve got to see this,” I said.


During my time as a high school English teacher, my tenth-grade classes studied the novel Night by Elie Wiesel.  As a supplement to historical information about the Holocaust, we also read about Stanley Milgram’s famous obedience experiments.  Milgram, a professor at Yale, set up a series of experiments in the early 1960s that sought to determine to what degree and under what conditions participants could be induced to inflict physical harm on total strangers for no significant reason.  The methodology was as follows: an administrator, a volunteer, and a “learner” would meet in a vacant room on the Yale campus.  The administrator would ask the volunteer–the “teacher”–to administer electric shocks when the learner failed to correctly identify word pairs.  What the volunteers didn’t know was that the learners were actually collaborators and no shocks were being delivered.  The purpose of the experiment was to see what percentage of volunteers would go on to administer the full 450 volts–a potentially fatal electric shock–even as learners screamed in pain from behind a partition.

Before beginning the experiments, Milgram polled his students and colleagues at Yale and dozens of psychiatrists, all of whom predicted that a very small number of participants (one percent or fewer) would continue to administer the shocks in increasing increments until reaching the full 450 volts.  In fact, 65 percent–two-thirds–of participants delivered the final voltage.

Milgram redesigned the experiment with several variations–all-women test groups, non-university locations, administrators in regular clothes rather than lab coats, etc.–but under every set of circumstances the number of participants willing to administer the highest voltage was much higher than predicted.  Under every set of circumstances, that is, except one: when two other teachers (actually collaborators) refused to obey the administrator and continue the experiment, the volunteer almost always refused as well.

At the same time Stanley Milgram was conducting his experiments in New Haven, the German Nazi Adolf Eichmann was standing trial for war crimes in Jerusalem.  Hannah Arendt later wrote about the trial in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, in which she argued that Eichmann was neither a sociopath nor an ideologically-driven fanatic; he was just a regular guy.  Indeed, the team of psychologists who studied him found that not only did he exhibit no signs of mental illness, but the most striking thing about Eichmann was how completely normal he was.

In her account, Arendt describes Eichmann, who had little education and lower than average intelligence, with words like “stupid” and “clown.”  Having been unsuccessful both at school and in the workforce, he was far more motivated by personal advancement than by ideology.  Eichmann admitted during the trial that seeing the respectable citizens of Germany embrace Hitler’s Final Solution made it easier for him to participate in its implementation.

Such is the banality of evil, that ordinary people are just as likely as bloodthirsty monsters to let–even to make–it happen.


Which brings me back to the members of Trump’s focus group.  They too look like perfectly normal people.  There isn’t a neo-Nazi or a Klansman in the bunch.  It’s easy to imagine them cooking dinner or playing with their children or grandchildren; some, no doubt, are churchgoers.  And yet, even as they try to work out the logistics of making guns available for use against transgender people or debate whether or not late-term abortions for impoverished women should be incentivized with casino chips, they never seem to question the morality of such acts.  One participant only expresses reservations about locking human beings in Porta Potties and shipping them to another country when it occurs to her that “one of us” could mistakenly get locked inside.  It’s as if a group of reasonable-seeming people, after reading Swift’s “Modest Proposal,” arrived at the consensus, “What a visionary idea!  Their babies!  Of course!”

The most appalling moment for me came when, discussing options for how best to give electric shocks to border crossers, one woman suggests a vaccine rather than a shock collar.  When the moderator asks how such a thing might be accomplished, the woman answers, laughing, “They wouldn’t know.  They’d think they were getting vaccinated for something.”  (Incidentally, the same participant later endorses a plan to lower Chinese I.Q.s by “injecting their water with various painting solvents.”)

One thing was clear: the members of the focus group were prepared to accept whatever idea they believed Donald Trump had put forward, and based on how few Republican public figures have disavowed Trump (to their credit, some have, though I think it’s noteworthy that none did until months after he made his infamous claim about Mexican drug dealers and rapists), I don’t think we could reasonably expect a significant number of them to stand up to him after the election either.

His supporters obviously believe that Donald Trump, having subverted everything we thought was true about our political system in the course of a few short months, can accomplish the seemingly impossible–and, as a matter of fact, I don’t disagree with them.  If a man with no political experience whatsoever, who’s patently unfit for public office, even, to invoke the old saw, that of dogcatcher, now finds himself with a 50/50 shot at the presidency of the United States, what can’t he do?  Perhaps the ideas in the series of fake commercials won’t be on the table, but some very like them may.  The deportation of millions of people seems improbable, for example, but Donald Trump hasn’t given any indication (other than not mentioning it in the presence of actual Mexicans) that he wouldn’t pursue such a plan if elected president.  A complete ban on Muslims attempting to enter the United States sounds extreme, but it’s exactly what Trump has promised–and it begs the question, what about the Muslims already within our borders?  Might they not be rounded up and placed in internment camps, like those used to house Japanese-Americans during World War II?  At the very least, couldn’t the government impose a ban on hijabs, burkas, burkinis, and the like?  It’s been attempted elsewhere in the First World.  The federal government had to take Donald Trump and his father to court in the 1970s after the Justice Department investigated their practice of turning away potential Black tenants, and a recent New York Times investigation revealed “a long history of racial bias at his family’s properties, in New York and beyond.”  Can we really believe that he’d fight for equal treatment for African-Americans if he were to become president?

If November comes and goes without seeing Donald Trump elected president, I think many of us will give a collective sigh of relief at having averted a potential disaster.  But our relief will be tinged with a lingering uneasiness.  Our eyes have been opened by this campaign to how very fragile our democracy is, and how much in need of vigilant protection.  The racism awakened by Trump’s campaign won’t disappear just because he loses the election; indeed, it might intensify, as it has during President Obama’s administration.  So, though a battle will have been won, the larger war will remain to be fought.

I wonder how the focus group dynamic might have been different if a single person had stood up and said, “I think this has to be a joke,” or “This is against everything we stand for as Americans”?  If some of the focus group members, or the moderator, had been African-American, or Asian-American, or Hispanic?  And what about the participants–and there were several–who didn’t speak at all?  Were they really in agreement with the absurd ideas they were being pitched, or just unwilling to call attention to themselves by disagreeing?

As Edmund Burke famously stated, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  That is all that’s necessary, but sometimes, given the right conditions, the good people are also the ones throwing the switches.  If Stanley Milgram’s experiment and Adolf Eichmann’s trial teach us anything, it’s that we can never afford to “go along” with evil.  We must be the respectable citizens whose dissent makes the Eichmanns among us think twice, the “teachers” whose refusal to hurt innocent people prompts others to take their own stands.  We must find the courage to oppose evil, in all its banality, or we may regret too late that we didn’t.

A native of the North Carolina foothills, April Vázquez holds a B.A. in Literature and Language from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and an M.A. in the Teaching of English as a Second Language from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  She currently lives in León, Guanajuato, Mexico, where she homeschools her daughters Daisy, Dani, and Dahlia.  April’s work has been published or is forthcoming in The Elephant Journal, The Missing Slate, Windhover, Manifest-Station, The New Plains Review, and The Fieldstone Review.

Real Parents

You’re not my real parents.

I said that to them at least once in my life. I followed the comment by running away from home, a slammed door followed by a short jaunt down Lola Drive with my blankee tied up on a yard stick and filled with GI Joe action figures (essential to survival). Five houses down, I realized my mistake and headed back. I pulled up a chair at the dinner table and ate a delicious meal that my parents had provided. They forgave me and loved me through the ordeal, just like “real” parents do.

I’m fairly sure every adopted kid has thought or said the same thing to their parents. It’s still a little confusing, after all, knowing that the people who raised me aren’t the people who made me. By ‘made,’ of course, I mean ‘had sex,’ and then one of them dealt with me explicitly for the next nine months. And both of them (biological mom and dad), after having made me, have probably dealt with the reality of their flesh and blood out there in the world, far removed from them for important, challenging reasons.


Simone Biles and I have at least three things in common – we were/are both gymnasts, we are Catholic, and we are adopted. People tend to understand the gymnast and the Catholic thing – sports and faith. Easy. But the adopted thing? Whose kid is this really?

A few days ago, Al Trautwig made (and, to his credit, later apologized for) an awkward, if not offensive, comment about the Olympic champion gymnast and her parentage.  “They may be mom and dad, but they are NOT her parents,” Al tweeted.

Then, who are they?


From what I’ve read, Simone’s biological mother Shannon struggled with a drug addiction that left her unable to care for her four children. Shannon’s father Roland (Simone’s biological grandfather) and his wife Nellie took charge, eventually adopting Simone and her little sister. Simone was four years old.

Now 19, Simone has seen Ronald and Nellie looking on from the stands for the entirety of her gymnastics career, which has just recently produced Olympic gold. Ronald and Nellie have driven Simone to early morning workouts, provided an education, fed her, clothed her, cheered her on in her greatest successes and held her close when she lost, or was injured, or was tired and wanted to quit. They gave her faith. They raised her. They are her parents. 1

Unless we want to think of parents in some other way. But I don’t think we can. Not really. The gift of life that parents provide doesn’t end when the child is just out of the womb. The gift extends well beyond first moments and into the flashes of life that parents provide their children each and every day. Parents who stick around for that are real parents. Who love without concern of being loved. Who step up when the kid needs it. Who fly halfway around the world to cheer their kid on. Who watch their daughter win Olympic gold.

It’s not always easy, and sometimes we end up with parents different from the ones who ‘made’ us. But let’s not think that biological connection is the only thing that makes a parent real.


(1) Imagine telling Joseph that he wasn’t Jesus’ father. Imagine telling Joseph that after all those years wiping baby Jesus’ butt, holding him during bouts with the stomach flu, working to put food on the table, teaching him to pray, to work hard, to pick up after himself, to be a good man and a good Jew, he wasn’t really Jesus’ father. The Christian tradition holds that Joseph is the foster father to Jesus, but I don’t think a qualifier is necessary. Joseph did just what real fathers do: he was there for everything until he couldn’t be there anymore.

This article by Eric Immel, SJ originally appeared at The Jesuit Post.

Solidarity and Voting: Vote Your Conscience, Not Your Privilege

Donald Trump continues his scorched earth campaigning, this time by sinking to new lows: he attacked the father of a fallen US soldier who was killed in Iraq, along with the Gold Star mother of that very same soldier.  The repudiation of his attacks by other Republicans was swift and harsh, but, this is just latest in a slew of examples that demonstrate that Donald Trump does not have the temperament, empathy, or disposition to be President of the United States.

The #NeverTrump movement continues to gain steam, but the #NeverTrump movement is also joined by a robust #NeverHillary movement as well.  The “never” camps primarily consist of voters who feel left out of both major political parties—these voters feel they must vote for a third party as a way to “vote their conscience” or in order to lodge a “protest vote” against what they view as unsatisfactory options. This type of strategic voting, however, is a privilege that many Americans cannot afford.

The choice to vote for a third party candidate as an exercise of principle entails an inherent risk that your more-preferred major party candidate may lose the election. For many of the most vulnerable, the outcome of this election will carry very tangible and potentially catastrophic results that would make taking such a risk unacceptable. Read More

Tim Kaine Talks ‘Faith, Family, and Work’ in Outstanding First Speech

A few days ago, Tim Kaine gave perhaps the best debut speech of any presidential running mate in recent history. He showed that he is a happy warrior who will fight for his deepest convictions while directly challenging his opponents, all without turning to the bile and hateful rhetoric that permeate American politics. In his first big speech, he showed sincerity, optimism, energy, and verve. His optimism and patriotism sharply contrast with the doom and gloom denigration of the United States by Donald Trump during his RNC speech. Kaine’s policy knowledge and seriousness contrast with the utter vapidity of Trump’s campaign, while he explained his positions in a relaxed, genial way that is easy for everyday Americans to understand.

While left-wing culture warriors have pushed a strategy centered on social libertarianism that is designed to win the White House despite being deeply damaging to many Democrats running for Congress and at the state level, Kaine offered an alternative: a complete and total focus on issues facing working class and middle class Americans. He talked about building bridges and having a “kids and family first president.” He highlighted Hillary Clinton’s communitarian impulses, the most admirable elements of her political vision and drive, while showing that he too sincerely believes we are “stronger together.” It is an important message at a time when radical individualism is poisoning both parties through the disproportionate power of self-centered economic elites.

What was really remarkable was how fluidly and authentically he talked about his faith and how it drives his life and commitment to social justice. Given the rising number of ‘nones’ in the Democratic coalition, it is remarkable how religiously devout the Clinton-Kaine ticket is. Kaine said, “I’m a Catholic and Hillary is a Methodist, but I tell ya, her creed is the same as mine: do all the good you can.” One may disagree with their application of Christian ethical principles or how they blend their faith and political life (as I’ll discuss below), but it is clear that both are driven by a deep, sincere Christian faith (unless you are blinded by the beam in your eye, as you busily search for apostates while intentionally or unwittingly propping up plutocracy, a fairly common ailment on social media). Read More

Sports, Solidarity, and #BlackLivesMatter

gdfgEarlier this week, ESPN hosted its annual award show, the ESPYS.  This year’s show—usually a lighthearted celebration of sports’ greatest athletes and accomplishments from over the previous year—got off to a poignant and powerful start.  Four of the NBA’s top stars, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James, Dwyane Wade (who recently joined the Chicago Bulls after 13 years playing for the Miami Heat), the NY Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony, and LA Clippers’ Chris Paul, joined together in a call to action in the face of escalating racial tensions and heartbreaking violence, including the tragic shootings that killed 49 and wounded dozens of others at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile by police officers, and the sniper attack in Dallas that gunned down five police officers and wounded seven others.  In this three-and-a-half minute moving speech, these world-class athletes told their peers and fans that we need to join together to “educate ourselves, explore these issues, speak up, use our influence and renounce all violence and, most importantly, go back to our communities, invest our time, our resources, help rebuild them, help strengthen them, help change them. We all have to do better.”

In making this claim, these four men communicated their desire to pick up the mantle of other activist-athletes like Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens, Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe – and especially the recently deceased Muhammad Ali, perhaps the most courageous activist among all those in the pantheon of sports heroes. Anthony and Paul are less known for their social views, although Carmelo did share some mighty words on this summer’s violence just last week.  Wade and James made headlines for their demonstrations after the deaths of Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin a few years ago, but James was criticized for his silence in the wake of the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.  Read More

Revitalizing Catholic Culture: An Interview with Anna Keating

dsfafdsfdAnna Keating is a blogger, writer, small business owner, and mother of two. She’s the co-author, along with Melissa Musick, of The Catholic Catalogue: A Field Guide To the Daily Acts That Make Up a Catholic Life. You can read an excerpt from the book here and Millennial’s review of the book here. The following is an interview with Anna Keating by Millennial editor Robert Christian:

Robert Christian (RC): The idea of a field guide to the daily acts of a Catholic life seems premised on the need for instruction or guidance in the absence of a robust Catholic culture where such traditions would be passed down orally or in another more organic way. What do you think has been lost with the collapse of this culture in certain areas or simply its absence in other areas?

Anna Keating (AK): I grew up a few blocks from my maternal grandmother. She was born in 1918 in Tulia, Texas. She called people “good ole boys” in her Southern accent, and said things like “She took to him like a sick kitten to a hot brick.” My grandmother died a few years ago, and I’m already starting to forget her sayings. If you don’t use the language, or record it, it’s lost. It happens very fast. That’s what’s happening with our faith. We don’t know the words or the works. We don’t remember how our grandmother used to braid those palms on Palm Sunday, or what braiding them was all about, or why our aunt was always making sick people casseroles. It’s vanishing.

Many of us didn’t grow up with these customs, with this way of seeing the world, even if we grew up Catholic. Stumbling upon this ancient way of life in this book, or elsewhere, is almost like discovering a foreign country.

Of course, we don’t want to idealize the past. Part of why American Catholic culture was more robust in the early and mid 20th century was because of Nativism. The KKK burned a cross in my great grandfather’s front yard because he was Catholic immigrant. We held onto our beliefs, in part, because of persecution and ghettoization.

Now we face the opposite problem of being mainstreamed. The faith gets boiled down. Reduced to a couple of bullet points. We live in an increasingly homogenized world. I’m intrigued by these ancient Christian habits, but often have no idea where to begin.

fsadfsdaThat’s why my coauthor, Melissa Musick, and I, wanted to write a resource that met people where they were (spiritual but not religious, Catholic, ex-Catholic, Protestant, agnostic). We wanted the book to be a field guide, an open window, a way in. Just pick one thing that resonates with you and try it. And then one thing leads to another, and another, and so on.

RC: Do you think there are particular challenges and/or opportunities when it comes to millennials and the revival of Catholic cultural practices? 

AK: As a generation, we’re uncomfortable with truth claims and mysteries. There aren’t many grand narratives anymore, except the ones that are so ubiquitous as to be invisible to us (e.g. utilitarianism).

We pick and choose from various moralities and symbol systems, but we tend not to put down roots. It’s an awful burden, in a way, to have an endless number of choices, especially when you don’t have any formative experiences with any of them and aren’t well informed about what it is you’re accepting or rejecting.

Sometimes we choose not to choose, out of the fear that picking a path and walking it will limit us in some way.

But I also think Millennials want to dive in, to taste and see, to feel alive, even if that means making sacrifices.

We’ve gone so far in the opposite direction (individualism, consumerism, nihilistic tendencies) that we’re ripe for a renewal. Millennials want more than nice stuff and endless distractions. They want love, meaning and purpose.

And they’re interested in rediscovering beautiful practices. Growing real food. Walkable neighborhoods. Religious life. Working with their hands. Buying local. Sacred art and architecture. Chant. Contemplation and meditation. Marian devotions. Jesus. Helping the poor and the environment. Social action. Building community. Nonviolence.

ewrqrOf course, being different can be unappealing. It’s natural to want to be accepted and well liked. And to love anything is to risk being misunderstood or mocked, or put in a box. Wasn’t it Flannery O’Connor who said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd”?

People have told me my shoes were cool, or that owning a small business was cool, or that my kids were great, but no one has ever told me that being a Catholic is cool. They’ve seen certain practices and found them compelling, but they could do without the label. But even that can be liberating. If you’re someone like me who suffers from the disease of caring too much about what other people think, it’s good to cultivate a healthy detachment, to, humbly and with a sense of humor, walk your path. Read More