Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza on Poverty, Structural Sin, Nuns, and a Broader Pro-Life Agenda

Faith in Public Life’s John Gehring recently interviewed Joseph Fiorenza, Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and a former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Gehring asked a superb set of questions, and the Archbishop responded with equally excellent answers. Here are some of the highlights of the Archbishop’s responses:

  • The Pope seems to want a Church that is inclusive and out in the world, a Church going to the peripheries, a Church that is involved in the truly human problems that are affecting so many, especially the problems of poverty.
  • Bishops have a lot to learn from him, especially his lifestyle. He has made a deliberate effort to distance himself from the imperial court of Rome. Bishops have to take a close look at ourselves to see how we can live more simply.
  • The Pope’s very clear teaching condemning the “economy of exclusion” and the structures of sin that are involved strikes at the heart of some conservative Catholics who are so wedded to the unfettered free market that they think the Pope’s talk is naïve. Well, the Pope sees it as realistic. The poor of the world who suffer from that type of economic philosophy see it as realistic. The Pope is on a steady course. He is not naïve. He knows what he is doing.
  • The Pope is saying we have to oppose abortion but there must be a broader agenda. Some pro-life advocates don’t like to hear that and think if you take the focus off abortion you weaken your position. The Pope is saying you weaken your pro-life position when you don’t take a broader view of issues that attack human life.
  • Some people think there are only sins that are intrinsic evil, but the Pope is saying the economy has built in a structure that strongly impacts against the humanity of people and that is an evil too.
  • Hopefully, we will begin to see in Faithful Citizenship more emphasis on what Francis is saying about the poor. That will be a sign of how well Francis’ influence is taking root among the bishops of the United States.
  • I also think when young people see we are in the streets working with the poor I think that will make a difference.
  • The Church has grown and been strengthened in this country because of women religious. They have been doing what Pope Francis has been talking about in the streets of the world, in the prisons.  They have done that far more effectively than anyone else in the church.

Check out the full interview here.

Top 10 Quotes from Cardinal O’Malley’s Whole Life Homily

Pope Francis has made a conscious shift in the Church’s language on abortion, one that places the issue within the context of human rights and social justice, while recognizing the difficult situations that lead many women to procure abortions. When it comes to addressing the issue in this way, Cardinal Sean O’Malley is definitely on #TeamFrancis and embracing this “whole life” approach rather than one centered around combative language and an excessively narrow agenda. This is a big boost for pro-life feminists, pro-life Democrats, and all other pro-lifers who recognize that a singular focus on overturning Roe is woefully inadequate compared to a comprehensive approach to abortion that secures legal rights for unborn children, addresses the economic injustices that lead to higher abortion rates, and guarantees sufficient support for pregnant women and families after the birth of the child.

Anusia Dickow has already done a great job addressing Cardinal O’Malley’s homily at the Vigil for Life. But here are ten top quotes from his recent whole life homily:

  1. “The culture of death flows out of the extreme individualism of our age.  The Church’s antidote is community and solidarity.”
  2. “The Pro-Life Movement needs to be the merciful face of God to women facing a difficult pregnancy.  Being judgmental or condemnatory is not part of the Gospel of Life.”
  3. “The feelings of the woman in the Gospel must be like the young woman caught in a crisis situation of an unwanted pregnancy.  She feels overwhelmed, alone, afraid, confused. We must never allow that woman to perceive the Pro-Life movement as a bunch of angry self righteous Pharisees with stones in their hands, looking down on her and judging her.  We want the woman to experience the merciful love of Christ.”
  4. “The Pro Life Movement has to be about saving mothers.  We need to focus on the women to try to understand what they are suffering.”
  5. “At Lampedusa Pope Francis cast a wreath into the sea where thousands of poor immigrants lost their lives at sea.  He warned about the globalization of indifference. We face this in the Pro Life Movement.”
  6. “Just as with slavery in the past, today many Americans are repulsed by abortion but believe that it is a necessary evil.  Our task is to show them that it is not necessary.  It is an evil but it is not necessary.”
  7. “We need people to hear the good stories of adoptions of courageous birth mothers and generous adoptive families that have truly provided a loving family for an adopted child.”
  8. “The majority of women who succumb to abortion are poor.  Poverty is a dehumanizing force that leads people to feel trapped and to make this horrible choice.  The Gospel of Life demands that we work for economic justice in our country and in our world.  In a society where the rich are getting ever richer and the poor poorer, abortion looms ever larger.”
  9. “We can rescue unborn babies from abortion by rescuing their mothers from a life of poverty and hopelessness.  Pope Francis challenges our complacency and indifference to the oppressive poverty that spawns so many abortions.”
  10. “Yes, the Catholic Church’s consistent life ethic is a great service to society.  It is our task to witness to the truth that love, compassion and solidarity can build a just society that will be safer for the poor, the unborn and those on the periphery.”

Pro-life, Anti-Maternity Care? I don’t think so

EJ Dionne asks, “If you’re a conservative strongly opposed to abortion, shouldn’t you want to give all the help you can to women who want to bring their children into the world? In particular, wouldn’t you hope they’d get the proper medical attention during and after their pregnancy?”

One would think that the obvious answer to each is “yes” or “of course.” For Christian Democrats, the strongest conservative party in a number of countries, ensuring that pregnant women and their children have access to quality healthcare is a top priority.

For pro-life Democrats here in the US, ensuring that pregnant women receive quality maternity care has been at the center of the movement’s agenda. As a Fellow at Democrats for Life of America, I have seen that pro-life Democrats (1) believe that access to universal healthcare is a fundamental human right; (2) genuinely care about the health and well-being of pregnant women; (3) care as much about preventing miscarriages and driving down the infant mortality rate as protecting unborn children from direct abortions; and (4) are committed to ensuring that pregnant women and their children have access to quality healthcare, as this will alleviate a tremendous concern for many poor and vulnerable women, which is good in and of itself, but also crucial in helping women to choose life.

So why are so many self-identified “pro-life” Republicans in the media and Congress opposing expanded coverage of maternity care and even mocking it? The biggest reason is that a large segment of the pro-life movement is not consistently or wholly pro-life. They are strictly anti-abortion in the sense that they want to prohibit abortion. Surely many think this is the best way to save unborn lives, but this limited approach is grossly inadequate compared to pro-life Democrats’ plan to secure legal protection for unborn lives, while simultaneously working to alleviate the conditions that lead many women (even those who consider themselves pro-life) to procure abortions.

What is behind the adoption of such a limited approach? Is it their conservatism? It is in fact their particular brand of conservatism, one infected by excessive individualism and radical libertarianism. This is clear when we consider the way health insurance works and why some pro-lifers support universal healthcare and others oppose it.

The reason that men need to contribute to the costs of maternity care, even though they will not get pregnant, is because it is so expensive. It is essential to share costs. This is the only way to ensure that all women and their unborn children are covered.

As Michael Hiltzik notes, cross-subsidies are common throughout Obamacare. It is the only way to ensure access to quality, affordable healthcare for the vulnerable, such as those with preexisting conditions who would otherwise struggle to pay for the treatment they need. We help to pay for things we will never need.

Christian Democrats accept this. Authentic compassionate conservatives accept this. Why don’t these Republicans in the media and Congress who consider themselves pro-life?

It is here where the individualism and libertarianism of the movement comes into play. Now we might not expect conservatives to find contemporary liberals’ arguments about enlightened self-interest compelling. Sure, many could hypothetically be persuaded that healthy women and children are good for society and that this will in turn benefit them. Alternatively, one could argue that women should not have to pay more for health insurance, simply because of their sex. One could point out that men play a fairly critical role in the pregnancy process, as both Hiltzik and Dionne do. Yet such arguments about fairness are unlikely to be compelling, as well, as this understanding of fairness is more generally associated with contemporary liberalism.

But what about conservative ideals? Conservatives are supposed to believe in community, in duty, in the common good. Yet these notions are often wholly absent from the rhetoric of right-wing pro-lifers or twisted by their fanatical hatred of government. Some are so anti-government that center-right proposals resemble communism in the alternate reality they have constructed, where they are the heroic defenders of liberty in a nation on the precipice of a descent into tyranny.

I have met extremely thoughtful and compassionate conservative pro-lifers, who have a strong sense of duty and commitment to their understanding of the common good. Unfortunately, pro-life Republicans of this nature are underrepresented in Congress. One is far more likely to find an Ayn Rand-loving man-child with a cultish devotion to the market and an ideology that is fundamentally selfish.

Sure they might praise private charity or philanthropy. Some even spend their time or money on these for non-cynical reasons. But at a fundamental level, they lack a commitment to duty—to protecting the most vulnerable in the most effective and comprehensive way. They lack a real commitment to the common good. Individual rights trump community. Individual rights trump human dignity. Individual rights trump human life.

If the pro-life movement will succeed in its goals, it is essential that these radical individualists move from the core to the periphery of the movement. Only a bipartisan movement of pro-life Democrats and genuine compassionate conservatives can deliver real success. This means the pro-life movement must do more to support pro-life Democrats and to challenge the growing strength of individualism and libertarianism within the Republican Party and the pro-life movement itself. The question is: will the movement figure this out before it’s too late?

Quote of the Day

Bishop Robert W. McElroy: “I believe that it is compassion which morally unites these two issues – compassion for the suffering of the poor and compassion for the unborn. I still am a believer in the underlying logic of Cardinal Bernardin’s seamless garment approach that saw all life issues as part of a continuum linked by the Catholic notions of compassion and justice.”

The Pope Francis Interview: Preaching the Gospel and Recovering the Consistent Life Ethic

If you haven’t yet read Robert Christian’s excellent piece in the Washington Post about Pope Francis’ interview in America Magazine, I highly recommend that you do so. It is one of the best commentaries that I have read to date on the recent interview (and I’m not just saying that because he is the editor of Millennial!).  Two things in particular stick out to me: Francis’ implicit appeal for a recovery of the consistent ethic of life and his emphasis on the need to preach the Gospel above all else.

Recovering the Consistent Ethic of Life

The first thing that strikes me about Christian’s article is his succinct iteration that, contrary to some commentary, Francis is reaffirming the Church’s “consistent ethic of life” and not downplaying the Catholic commitment to protect human life and dignity.

In their document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. Catholic bishops write:

The consistent ethic of life provides a moral framework for principled Catholic engagement in political life and, rightly understood, neither treats all issues as morally equivalent nor reduces Catholic teaching to one or two issues. It anchors the Catholic commitment to defend human life, from conception until natural death, in the fundamental moral obligation to respect the dignity of every person as a child of God (#40).

This message that both human life and human dignity form the foundation of all that we now call Catholic social teachings is essentially what Francis said in the interview: although the “moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent [. . . w]e cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods [. . .] it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

As Christian points out, Francis is not reducing the importance of the Catholic commitment to life and dignity, nor downplaying what many refer to as the “core” life issues. Rather, Francis is criticizing those who have become “obsessed” with reducing the fullness of Catholic Social Teaching to a handful of narrow issues, and making an appeal for the Church to recover the awareness that many contemporary social issues—from extreme poverty to climate change—threaten to compromise the Church’s commitment to protect human life and dignity. Pope Francis is essentially making a plea for Catholics to “find a new balance” of attention to issues of human life and dignity, and this is a welcome appeal to those of us who for too long have felt that our contributions to promoting the social mission of the Church on issues other than abortion, gay marriage, and artificial contraception are less urgent or important, and therefore less worthy of energy and action.

Preaching the Gospel

In addition to pointing out Francis’ implicit appeal for a recovery of the consistent ethic of life, Christian’s article highlights another theme that is central to Francis’ interview: the need for the Church to preach the Gospel message of love and mercy above all else. Throughout the interview, Francis insists that “[t]he most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.” Francis believes that “from this proposition [. . .] the moral consequences then flow,” and laments that some in the Church today begin with “the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines” rather than the foundational proclamation of Jesus’ love and mercy.

Francis seems to mourn this situation not only because it causes the Church to “lock itself up in small things, in small-minded rules” and lose the fullness of the Gospel message, but also because, as Christian says, “a disproportionate focus on particular moral teachings threatens a descent into legalism, the mentality that Jesus spent so much time challenging and condemning.”

Although Christian writes that Francis’ message can be understood as directed primarily at “those who seem to ignore other social and moral issues and seemingly want to turn opposition to abortion into a litmus test that determines one’s inclusion in the Catholic community,” it is important to recognize that Francis’ message is a good reminder to all Catholics not to lose the forest of the Gospel for the trees of a particular social concern. Anybody who feels a passionate vocation to address a specific aspect of the Church’s social tradition—indeed any aspect of the Church’s tradition, e.g. liturgical, canonical, pastoral, etc.—should be encouraged to do so, but also reminded not to become disproportionately focused on their area to the exclusion of the larger Gospel message. Aware of this potential danger, Francis’ message is therefore an important reminder to all Catholics involved in any type of ministry.


As the media’s initial focus on attention-grabbing headlines begins to wane, Catholics are now left with the challenging process of reflecting more deeply on the fullness of Francis’ interview and its implications for the Church in the 21st century. Robert Christian’s recent article makes a valuable contribution to what will necessarily be a lengthy process of discernment, and his attention to both Francis’ implicit appeal for a consistent ethic of life and invitation to preach the Gospel above all else provides Catholics with two key insights that can provide entry points into deeper reflection about Francis’ extraordinary message to the Church and to the world.

Around the Web (Part 1)

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

A Challenge for Christians to Cooperate by Ambassador Thomas Melady, former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See: “Our Catholic hierarchy needs to seize this opportunity and make a stand. We as a Church need to invite the leadership of the Christian Orthodox and Protestant Churches to join us in a strong attack on poverty. This is not an issue that concerns only Catholics. Christians of all denominations have an equal obligation to uphold the principles of our common faith. Let us reduce poverty by a significant degree before the end of this decade through a combined effort.”

Hurricane Heading Towards Africa by Bishop Robert Lynch: “I am convinced that many so called Pro-Life groups are not really pro-life but merely anti-abortion. We heard nothing from the heavy hitters in the prolife movement in the last week when Florida last night executed a man on death row for 34 years having been diagnosed as a severe schizophrenic. Which personality did the state execute? Many priests grow weary of continual calls to action for legislative support for abortion and contraception related issues but nothing for immigration reform, food aid, and capital punishment. And, this is a big one, priests don’t like unfair attacks on things they highly value and esteem, like the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services.”

Taken by Sarah Stillman, The New Yorker: “Under civil forfeiture, Americans who haven’t been charged with wrongdoing can be stripped of their cash, cars, and even homes. Is that all we’re losing?”

A plea for common sense and compassion in the immigration debate by Sister Mary Ann Walsh: “Each day we see the human consequences of an immigration system. Families are separated; migrants exploited by unscrupulous employers and smugglers; and human beings, desperate to survive, perish in the American desert.  Moreover, as our nation benefits from the work of undocumented workers, we do not extend them basic workplace or legal protections and at the same time scapegoat them for our social ills.”

First Colbert, now memoir for ‘A Nun on the Bus,’ Simone Campbell by Michelle Boorstein, Washington Post: “HarperOne – Harper’s faith imprint – announced Thursday that next April they’ll publish ‘A Nun on the Bus,’ named after the widely watched national bus tour Campbell and other sisters launched last year to oppose Paul Ryan’s budget plan.

7 Questions: Ending the Death Penalty by Michael O’Loughlin with Karen Clifton: “People have usually not thought about the death penalty and often they don’t know the facts. If you give them the facts about cost, then they are often open to hearing the moral arguments as well. They often don’t know that execution can cost three times more than a life sentence in the highest level security prison, that poverty plays a major role in who gets the death penalty, as people with money do not sit on death row, that it’s racially biased, that one-third of all executions come from only 15 counties in the US, that there is a high probability of executing an innocent person. Once people hear this, they are open to hearing the moral arguments about a flawed system playing God, the lack of redemption, and the dignity of human life.”

That annoying, really hurtful person in your life by Matthew Warner, The Radical Life: “The friend who is totally oblivious to your pain. The parent who just doesn’t get it. The family member who seems deliberately insensitive to others. The co-worker who enjoys being rude to you. The person who obnoxiously loves the politician you despise. The Facebook friend who stands against absolutely everything you believe in. The group doing everything to stop what you love most…They are all fighting a great battle.”

A gentle approach to nation building by Thomas Mengler, for the Express-News: “It’s challenging for a visitor like me to envision how the nation of Haiti can ever rise again. In my trip to Haiti, however, I watched Catholic Relief Services — through its charitable and life-giving embrace — bring hope and joy to thousands of men, women and children.”

Migration and Structural Violence  Posted by Emily Reimer-Barry, Catholic Moral Theology: “Migration of peoples is not a new phenomenon but it is a complex one. So too is the ethical task of naming the ‘problem’ correctly so that we can come to the best possible solutions.”

Interview with Aimee Murphy of Life Matters Journal

The upcoming event Life/Peace/Justice: A Conference on Life Issues, which will be held in Philadelphia, PA on March 29, 2014, will feature discussions on topics relevant to life issues, ranging from euthanasia and abortion to unjust war and human trafficking.  Confirmed speakers include: Kelsey Hazzard (Secular Pro Life), Jason Jones (I am Whole Life, Movie to Movement), and Serrin Foster (Feminists for Life of America).  You can view a tentative schedule (some speakers are not yet confirmed) here.

Millennial editor Robert Christian interviewed Aimee Murphy, an organizer of the event and the Executive Director of Life Matters Journal, to discuss the event and her larger efforts.

Robert: Why did you start Life Matters Journal?
Aimee: I started Life Matters Journal because I saw a niche in the pro-life and pro-peace movements that was not being filled. My goals were twofold: to engage young people in a consistent ethic of life, and to host and perpetuate dialogue on these ever-pertinent issues of human rights and human life. Consistent Life, a more than 25-year-old group, has done an ample job at providing a network for peace-and-life-minded individuals and organizations. But I didn’t see youth getting involved in a consistent, intellectually honest ethic of life because they felt it was outdated or they wouldn’t “fit” in the existing movement. I see one of our roles as bringing this consistent ethic of life to a new generation, and in so doing, also encouraging young people to adopt this philosophy and take it with them in their own activism efforts, whatever their pet cause may be. Our main mission states our aim: “to end aggressive violence through education and discourse.” Dialogue and open lines of communication are of highest import when we work to change hearts and minds, and Life Matters Journal itself was the seed of an idea planted while I was at Carnegie Mellon University (a very liberal, secular “New Ivy” university), and our pro-life group was gaining no ground with students on campus. The main reason behind this?  No one would engage our arguments because they assumed we were right-wing religious extremists who held inconsistent values of human life. Once we established ourselves as nonpartisan, non-sectarian, and adhering to a consistent ethic of life — you would be amazed! — students actually began to engage us in conversation, and in so doing, make the connections about human rights and human life on their own. The key, of course, was opening the door to communication, and I believe that our policies (much the same as my student organization at university) do this more than amply.

Robert: You talk about changing hearts and minds.  How well do you think the pro-life movement does that?  Is that a top priority for everyone in the movement?
Aimee: Changing hearts and minds is integral to producing and perpetuating a culture of peace and life: you may enforce laws til you’re blue in the face, you may yell and hold graphic images til your voice goes hoarse and your arms hurt like the dickens, but if you do not change hearts and minds, abortion (and other acts of aggressive violence) will continue, even if clandestine and illegal.

There are some organizations dedicated to changing hearts and minds, there are some that don’t have that focus and instead work on law and policy, and there are others set in their ways that close down the avenues of communication with a swift, single blow. I don’t think it’s the top priority of every organization in the movement, but I think each different organization (as long as not so intentionally divisive or utterly compromising) may be necessary in their own way.

All of that being said, I think that the pro-life movement, in general, would do well to realize the breadth and depth of individuals who want to help our cause and do not feel welcome – whether that be because of their religion (or lack thereof), their sexual orientation, or their politics. While religion and political parties and sexual orientation matter (and may matter deeply and as for religion…of the ultimate importance), our shared humanity and saving the lives of fellow human beings is of the most immediate importance. A fireman does not ask another for their religious affiliation, political party, or sexual orientation before entering a burning building to save the lives of those trapped inside; I do believe that we need to open the doors of our movement wider than we have in the past.

Finally, I’d like to make a mention of the audience we are often trying to reach in the U.S. when we want to change hearts and minds. Our generation of millennials is more secular (atheist/agnostic) than past generations, yet also more pro-life. I think the pro-life movement has a responsibility to future generations to reach the millennials who’ve been lost in the culture war. Science is on our side, and we have the ethical foundations to change hearts and minds using facts before we shout “God says so.” Speaking as someone who came back to my Catholic faith long after I had become pro-life, I know that as a secular teen who was barely agnostic, I would have rolled my eyes at faith-based speeches and arguments for the pro-life cause. This is not to say that the religious heritage of the movement must be lost, but I really think we would do ourselves a big favor to “rebrand” the pro-life movement as one based on facts and science – a human rights issue – instead of on our faith in whatever religion or God we profess.

Robert: How do these ‘whole life’ or ‘consistent life ethic’ issues fit together?  What would you say to critics who argue that abortion is so important, it is a mistake to group it without other issues of
lesser importance?

Aimee: The issues in the consistent ethic of life (abortion, euthanasia, death penalty, unjust war, torture, embryonic stem-cell research, human trafficking, suicide, abuse, etc) fit together inasmuch as they are aggressive acts of violence, violations of human life and dignity. This is the root of why they fit together; it is not that they are of equal moral weight or that they are at every level comparable. I would posit (and I hope all would agree) that based on sheer numbers, abortion is the most grave act of human rights violations of our generation: as such, I believe it should be most important and take precedence in the work that we do. But in so doing, I do not condone other acts of aggressive violence, and I retain my voice that values each and every human being’s life at all stages, in all circumstances. I would put forth a sort of story that, in my mind, lays out why I think the consistent ethic of life is integral to pro-life work and human rights work in other areas:  A woman, visibly just barely pregnant, is walking down the sidewalk, towards an abortion clinic. You hand her a pamphlet listing her options, and hand her a coupon for a free ultrasound at the mobile unit just down the street. She looks up at you in tears and embraces you, exclaiming that she “never wanted to do it anyway.” Eight months later, after your help and that from the CPC, she gives birth to a beautiful baby boy. His name is Shawn. You love him, you gave so much to save his life… But 19 years later, he’s fallen into trouble. His mom had to work 3 jobs just to keep them afloat, and he fell in with the wrong crowd. He was involved in a burglary that turned into an accidental homicide. He pulled the trigger. Because he’s black and poor, he’s more likely to be sentenced to death. But you love him. You know he’s a good kid and he just made a mistake (as we all do, we’re fallen human beings). You fight to keep him off death row, you want him to have all the time possible to repent and give back to society. You want him to be rehabilitated. Or, an alternative scenario:  But 19 years later, his mother had married a man from Pakistan when Shawn was still a preschooler and she had taken him with her. Shawn is a Muslim by consequence and much less by choice, and he certainly does not fall in the militant category. He prays for peace and does his utmost to promote peaceful, nonviolent solutions. But he gets caught behind enemy lines on his way to visit a friend one day. He is struck by a drone sent down by U.S. planes. The basic moral, of course, is that Shawn’s life is the same human life from conception to natural death. There is no sweeping, broad “preborn rights” inasmuch as we fight for the right of every preborn human being to live. To value human rights at all, I posit, we must fight for the life of every human being. (This, of course, does not include the stipulations for warding off an aggressor and protecting self or community in self-defense, which I may elaborate upon later.)

Robert: What role does religion play in your efforts?  What role should it play in promoting a pro-life/whole life message?
Aimee: Personally, as a Catholic, I find my faith to be a rejuvenating source of “living water” and inspiration for my work. Christ himself told us “whatever we do for the least of these, we do for [Him],” and “You have heard it said ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’, but I say to you: bless your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” I find His example as quite the inspiration and without my faith I’m sure I would become easily discouraged and exhausted. I love spending time in front of the Eucharist to remind myself why I do what I do!

Of course, my personal faith is not the official religion of Life Matters Journal (or Life/Peace/Justice Conference). Our goal is to educate and promote discourse, and in so doing, I find that opening the dialogue to all faiths to be the most fruitful and educational. This is not to say that faith has no place in the conversation, but that we invite everyone to the table to save lives together. I am so much looking forward to having a whole slough of engaging and educational speakers join us for the Life/Peace/Justice Conference! We have a docket planned that presents so many different issues from a variety of perspectives.

Robert: Which speakers are you looking forward to having at the conference?  What are the arguments they will be bringing to the table?

Aimee: I’ll just mention the ones I am most looking forward to at the moment, because it’s so hard to choose who might be my favorite!  Jason Jones, of I Am Whole Life and Movie to Movement, will be speaking for us about presenting a respect for the human person at all stages in our political activism from a more conservative perspective, while we hope to see Kristen Day of Democrats for Life and Mary Meehan present a similar case from a more liberal ideology as well. I am excited to see these pro-life and pro-peace activists teach us about working across party lines and helping to protect the foundational right to life.

Serrin Foster, of Feminists for Life, is a longtime friend and hero of mine, so I am thrilled to see her again and hear her witness for pro-life feminism and the history of feminism in the fight for equality for all humankind. And Bobby Schindler, founder of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, will give an unforgettable witness for the rights of disabled and elderly to life in the face of the threat of euthanasia.

I have not yet had the opportunity to listen to a Witness to Innocence exonerated death row inmate yet, and this might be the most gripping tale that I may get the chance of hearing at Life/Peace/Justice. These men and women who stand up against the death penalty in the U.S. are amazing witnesses of the risk we run of executing innocents with capital punishment.

Alas, these are just a small handful of the topics we hope to address (including abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, torture, unjust war, suicide prevention, embryonic stem-cell research, human trafficking, and more!), but it would take pages to cover the minutiae of what we hope to see discussed in our time with Life/Peace/Justice 2014. Our schedule includes both a secular and a Christian witness panel for some different topics, help for campus pro-life groups, and a forum for all attendees on practices, policy, and efficacy in our respective marketplaces of ideas. Our goal is both to educate and promote a discourse!

Robert: It would appear that no one will be speaking about the “responsibility to protect” or humanitarian intervention (including armed humanitarian intervention) at the conference. In the past, many ‘consistent life’ leaders have pushed their personal preference for pacifism and excluded others who support just war theory and the use of military force to protect the innocent from mass murder.  Are such supporters of force intentionally excluded from this conference?  Is there a place for strong supporters of military force to protect the innocent from mass murder in the consistent life/whole life movement?

Aimee: The official position of Life Matters Journal as an organization (but just one among many working on this event) is to “end aggressive violence through education and discourse.” As such, most on our board adhere to a strict interpretation of Just War Theory, though some on our board, and many involved with our work consider themselves pacifists and we welcome all, regardless of position on this particular spectrum against aggressive violence to join in the discourse. I, myself, adhere to Just War Theory due to my ethical foundations in the belief of human life as a basic human good to be protected regardless of circumstance, but I would not spurn those who support a slightly more interventionist approach as reprobate! While we do not have a speaker or panel this year directly speaking on Just War practices or Pacifism and the ethical gobbledygook that is therein involved (we are hoping to soon confirm a speaker who might tell their own story about being a Veteran for Peace, but this is slightly different in the exact quality of the presentation), I do hope to see in the future of Life/Peace/Justice an in-depth discussion on these matters.

I personally do believe that there is a place in the Consistent Life Ethic movement for individuals that support a strict Just War Theory approach to protecting human beings under attack, as I am one myself. I believe that Just War principles can be applied to defensive action of self and community, and that the principles of self and community defense could likewise be applied to our practices in wartime, or to come to the aid of one under attack. But Just War principles are many, and I would posit that our governments are not nearly so discerning as to make the just choice in most cases in our modern world. I do hope that such a witness (not mere Pacifism, but holding our military powers to a higher standard as in the Just War principles) would actually be quite effective in changing hearts and minds and bringing about a culture of life.