The Four Preeminent Political Issues Facing the United States


Bishop Robert McElroy has a new article at America, in which he discusses faithful citizenship:

In Francis’ message he made clear that the core of the vocation of public service, and of all politics, is to promote the integral development of every human person and of society as a whole. It is a vocation that requires special and self-sacrificial concern for the poor, the unborn, the vulnerable and the marginalized. It is a commitment to pursue the common good over that of interest groups or parties or self-aggrandizement. It is a profoundly spiritual and moral undertaking.

This same spiritual and moral identity is also emblazoned upon the most foundational act of citizenship in our society, that of voting for candidates for office. Thus, ultimately it is to the citizens of our nation as a whole that the challenge of Pope Francis is directed. Catholic teaching proclaims that voting is inherently an act of discipleship for the believer. But American political life increasingly creates a distorted culture that frames voting choices in destructive categories that rob them of their spiritual character and content…..

The primary step of moral conversion to the common good requires an ever deeper affective understanding of how the commitment to the dignity of the human person radically embraces each of the issues that Pope Francis identified as constitutive of the common good of the United States at this moment in our history. It requires, in a very real sense, the development of “a Catholic political imagination” that sees the mutual linkages between poverty and the disintegration of families, war and the refugee crisis around the world, the economic burdens of the aging and our societal lurch toward euthanasia….

Bishop McElroy also outlined the “four pre-eminent political issues facing the United States that touch upon life as gift and responsibility in a decisive way”:

The first is abortion. The direct destruction of more than one million human lives every year constitutes a grievous wound upon our national soul and the common good….

The second is poverty. In a world of incredible wealth, more than five million children die every year from hunger, poor sanitation and the lack of potable water. Millions more die from a lack of the most elementary medical care….

A third pre-eminent issue centering upon life as gift and responsibility is care of the earth, our common home. The progressive degradation of the global environment has created increased poverty and death among many of the poorest peoples on earth….

The final pre-eminent question at stake in the political common good of the United States today is assisted suicide. For at its core, assisted suicide is the bridgehead of a movement to reject the foundational understanding of life as gift and responsibility when confronting end-of-life issues.

You can read the full article here.

Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Mercy, Part I by Michael Sean Winters: “Most of us Christians grew up with the idea that the God of the Hebrews was an angry God. Certainly, many Christians have conceived him as such. But, Kasper sets out to destroy this myth and largely succeeds.”

Part II and Part III

Finding Faith in The Simpsons: The Top Five Theological Episodes of The Simpsons by Katharine Mahon: “But hidden inside this deeply flawed family and this caricature of American culture is a honest and rich depiction of family life in 1990’s America. The show explores moral dilemmas, spiritual crises, the love of spouse, parent, child, and sibling, as well as the testing of that love.”

Saudi Arabia continues its outrageous repression of human rights activists by Washington Post: “Saudi Arabia remains determined to shut the windows, close the doors and throw dissidents into solitary confinement.”

U.N. says pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine murder, kidnap and torture by Louis Charbonneau: “Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine are guilty of a wide array of human rights abuses, including murder, abductions and torture, and are receiving a “steady supply” of sophisticated weapons and ammunition, according to a U.N. report obtained by Reuters.”

The Mental Virtues by David Brooks: “In fact, the mind is embedded in human nature, and very often thinking well means pushing against the grain of our nature — against vanity, against laziness, against the desire for certainty, against the desire to avoid painful truths. Good thinking isn’t just adopting the right technique. It’s a moral enterprise and requires good character, the ability to go against our lesser impulses for the sake of our higher ones.”

The Saint Who Taught Me to Worship by Timothy O’Malley: “The vocation of humanity is this kind of praise, a perfect praise in which every form of worship finds its end not in better, more sophisticated (and novel) worship that generates more and more emotion. But in that gift of self, which Christians call love. Worship is not about us, it is not about our affections. Instead, it is about becoming who God intended us to be: members of a symphony of perfect praise of the voice and the will alike.”

ISIS selling Yazidi women in Syria by Raja Razek and Jason Hanna: “Hundreds of Yazidi women abducted by ISIS have either been sold or handed out to members of the Sunni extremist group, according to an organization that monitors the crisis.”

Getting to the Crux of why Catholicism matters by John Allen: “In places such as the Philippines, corruption is a signature Catholic concern, and with good reason. Global Financial Integrity, a research organization based in Washington, estimates that corruption cost poor nations almost $6 trillion over the last decade, draining badly needed resources for education, health care, and poverty relief.”

Russia Is Burying Soldiers in Unmarked Graves Just to Conceal Their Role in Ukraine by Josh Kovensky: “The Russian government couldn’t care less about its dead soldiers. Paratroopers who have been killed in Ukraine are not receiving military funerals, nor are they being recognized for having died for their country. Rather, their graves have been kept unmarked.”

More Workers Are Claiming ‘Wage Theft’ by NY Times: “The lawsuit is part of a flood of recent cases — brought in California and across the nation — that accuse employers of violating minimum wage and overtime laws, erasing work hours and wrongfully taking employees’ tips. Worker advocates call these practices ‘wage theft,’ insisting it has become far too prevalent.”

What’s missing in the Ebola fight in West Africa by Jim Yong Kim and Paul Farmer: “To halt this epidemic, we need an emergency response that is equal to the challenge. We need international organizations and wealthy countries that possess the required resources and knowledge to step forward and partner with West African governments to mount a serious, coordinated response as laid out in the World Health Organization’s Ebola response roadmap.”

Siege of Iraqi town broken by CNN: “Iraqi security and volunteer forces have broken the siege of Amerli and have entered the town, retired Gen. Khaled al-Amerli, an Amerli resident and member of its self-defense force, told CNN on Sunday….The breakthrough came after the United States said it carried out airstrikes and dropped humanitarian aid in Amerli to protect an ethnic minority that one official said faced the threat of an ‘imminent massacre.’ Amerli is home to many of Iraq’s Shiite Turkmen.”

Right to Die, or Duty to Die? The Slippery-Slope Argument Against Euthanasia Revisited by Charles Camosy: “When euthanasia is legalized in cultures where the values of autonomy and consumerism hold sway, we soon end up with the kinds of deaths that almost no one wants. We also end up with a culture that almost no one wants – one that pushes vulnerable older persons, not just to the margins of society, but even to the point of dying in order to make space for the young, vigorous and productive.”

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.