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

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

Every Living Thing: How Pope Francis, Evangelicals, and other Christian Leaders are Inspiring All of Us to Care for Animals

An Interview with Christine Gutleben of The Humane Society of the United States

In Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, he tasks the entire world with a greater care and concern for creation. In recent years, one major area in which this call has been heeded on a practical level is the recent alliance between pro-lifers and pro-animal welfare activists. As someone who is convinced that Christians have a moral obligation to care for animals and oppose cruelty, I’m a proponent of the work of the Humane Society of the United States, which has a great history of promoting animal welfare, particularly among Christians. Christine Gutleben is the Senior Director of Faith Outreach for the Humane Society, and she recently spoke with me about both the history and the future of this noble cause.

Christopher White (CW): The Humane Society has a deeply entrenched historical relationship with Christian leaders. Can you give us some background on this?

Christine Gutleben (CG): The Humane Society of the United States has acknowledged the important role of faith in animal advocacy since it was founded 60 years ago.  The first Chairman of the Board, Robert Chenoweth, said during his first annual presentation to the members of HSUS, Our faith is that there is a God who created all things and put us here on earth to live together.  Our creed is that love and compassion is due from the strong to the weak.”  Since then, two previous Presidents of The HSUS were clergy and their leadership spanned 35 years, more than half of the organization’s existence.  One of them, John Hoyt, was a Presbyterian minister and he described his work with The HSUS as a ministry that benefited both people and animals.

CW: Why, in your opinion, should people of faith—particularly Christians—care about animals?

CG: My primary goal at The HSUS is to encourage people to think about our dealings with animals in moral terms.  Animal welfare is less about animals than it is about ourselves and our values.  And Christian values are grounded in caring for the “least of these.”  The Bible is clear that we are to extend God’s mercy to the vulnerable and this includes the animal kingdom.   Read More

The Tweetable Pope: An Interview with Michael O’Loughlin

PicMonkey CollageThe Tweetable Pope by Michael O’Loughlin, the national reporter for Crux, is an excellent new book that focuses on the content, context, and impact of Pope Francis’ use of the social media platform Twitter. O’Loughlin devotes chapters to the various themes found in Francis’ tweets, from prayer to suffering to pro-life issues to inequality. For those who follow Francis closely on twitter, the layout and analysis offer an excellent reflection on Francis’ key themes and serve as a reminder of some of his powerful words that may have been forgotten. For those who do not follow Francis closely on twitter (or at all), there should be enough in the book to motivate that person to create a twitter account or stay up to date on the pope’s latest tweets. These readers will get a close look at Francis’ extraordinary power to condense powerful messages into clear, compact tweets that resonate with people across the globe.

Millennial editor Robert Christian interviewed O’Loughlin on The Tweetable Pope:

Do you think Twitter (or social and digital media, more broadly) is changing the way people practice their faith?

A tool like anything else, social media can help people practice their faith or distract them from it. There are lots of spirituality-themed podcasts (I like the Jesuit’s Pray as You Go, for example) and many faith leaders publish inspiring, thoughtful, and challenging “micro-sermons” on Twitter. Pope Francis is especially good at this, hence my idea for “The Tweetable Pope.”

You devote a chapter to work, which seems to be a central theme in Francis’ thought. Why do you think Pope Francis places this emphasis on work and links it so closely to human dignity?

Yeah, the pope tweets a lot about work, especially a lack of meaningful opportunities for young people to “earn their bread,” as he puts it. It comes from his experience of living with the poor in Buenos Aires and from the high number of unemployed young people he now sees in Europe. Anyone who’s ever been out of work knows how difficult it is – materially and spirituality – and so Francis hammers away at his belief that the economy’s got to work for people, not the other way around. Read More

The Francis Effect: John Gehring on a Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church

The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church is an outstanding new book by John Gehring, Catholic Program Director at Faith in Public Life. The book provides an excellent overview of the key moments, debates, and consequences of Francis’ papacy, rooted in Gehring’s strong analysis and unfolding in an interesting and persuasive narrative. I highly recommend the book for everyone from those who read Francis’ daily homilies or Millennial every day to your favorite Catholic CEOs who head to the pews twice a year (Christmas and Easter Only) to non-Catholics who are fascinated by Pope Francis and interested in learning more about his papacy. It is rich in detail, but tightly written, which allows it provide great clarity and accessibility without oversimplifying. It serves as a great introduction for those who have not followed his papacy closely and a valuable resource for those who have.

The following is an interview with John Gehring on the book and Pope Francis’ papacy:

What makes Pope Francis radical?

John Gehring (JG): A journalist asked Pope Francis once if he was a “revolutionary.” The word, of course, carries a lot of baggage and elicits strong reactions so it would have been easy for him to dance around it. The pope didn’t shy away from it but said the true revolutionary is one who goes to the “roots.” The word radical comes from radix, which means the root. Francis is a radical in the same spirit as Jesus was a radical. He wants the Church to be rooted in the countercultural message of the Gospel, which is good news for the poor. Francis thinks the Church grows unhealthy and irrelevant when it becomes more about institutional maintenance and clerical privilege. He wants the Church to regain the capacity to convey what he calls the “freshness and fragrance” of the Gospel. This is the radicalism of the Holy Spirit at work in the Church. He also wants to change the root causes of inequality and poverty, which includes a critique of the ways unjust structures shape an economy of exclusion and a globalization of indifference. Read More

Why Workers and Unions Matter: An Interview with Father Clete Kiley

A few years ago, a video of Father Clete Kiley, a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago, went viral. His passionate, stirring defense of labor unions and economic justice, together with his honesty and moral clarity on the inadequacies of the status quo struck a chord with believers and non-believers alike. And his vision was shaped by Catholic social teaching. It showed the power of faith in action.

This summer, Fr. Kiley, who is the Director for Immigration Policy for UNITE HERE, spoke at the “Erroneous Autonomy: A Conversation on Solidarity & Faith” conference in DC, alongside Cardinal Donald Wuerl and other leaders from the Catholic and labor communities. Millennial editor Robert Christian had the opportunity to interview Fr. Kiley, to follow up on some of the key points he made at the conference and ask him about where millennials fit into the equation. Read More

Pope Francis Is Right About Abortion and Mercy

Millennial co-founder Christopher Hale has a new article in Time. He writes:

Pope Francis revealed Tuesday that he intends to allow Catholic priests to grant sacramental forgiveness to those who have procured an abortion during his special yearlong celebration of the “Jubilee Year of Mercy” set to begin this December. Since procuring an abortion is considered a grave sin that automatically excommunicates someone from the Catholic Church, normally only a bishop can grant forgiveness for it and lift the excommunication….

The willingness of Pope Francis to understand abortion as a societal failure can help end the ancient lie that abortion is simply the result of the personal failure of an individual woman.

Make no mistake: this is the Francis way. He says that those “who accompany their brothers and sisters in faith or on a journey of openness to God must always remember what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches quite clearly: ‘Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.’”

In other words, every person’s actions, failures, and—yes—sins must be understood within a wider context. While Francis hasn’t in any way changed the Catholic Church’s teaching on the grave immorality of abortion, he is suggesting that Christians accompany those who have had abortions in a more compassionate way. It makes sense coming from a pope who has built his spiritual legacy on his dogmatic certainty that God is in every person’s life.

The full article can be read here.