Don’t Be an Observer: Our Generation’s Call to Defend Life

“Continue to overcome apathy, offering a Christian response to the social and political anxieties, which are arising in various parts of the world. I ask you to be builders of the world, to work for a better world. Dear young people, please, don’t be observers of life, but get involved. Jesus did not remain an observer, but he immersed himself. Don’t be observers, but immerse yourself in the reality of life, as Jesus did.” –Pope Francis July 27, 2013

Last week, despite the threat and arrival of Snowzilla, thousands of Americans took to the streets of Washington DC to take a stand against the lethal Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade and to raise their voices in support of women and unborn children. A majority of those who marched for life were millennials. I was among them and as I marched, Pope Francis’ words to young people came to mind. The Holy Father reminded us in a 2013 homily that Jesus was not an observer, but rather he immersed himself in the reality of life. We too are called to immerse ourselves, to be advocates, and to stand up and offer “a Christian response to the social and political anxieties” which we face in our civilization.

The greatest civil rights abuse of our time is abortion. If we are to follow Jesus’ example, we must, as Pope Francis exhorts us, face this reality of life. We know the statistics—around a million children lose their lives to abortion each year. Each number included in this statistic is a child that has lost his or her life. And with each child that has lost his or her life to abortion, there is a mother and a father that is hurting. Grandparents, friends, and extended family suffer as well.

In addition to being a horrific reality at a human level, abortion is also one of the most controversial political issues of our day. It can be difficult to engage with others on such a heated topic. Trust me, as someone who works in the pro-life movement, it isn’t always easy to tell the person next to me on the plane what I do for a living. Yet God has chosen us to live in this time and so we must trust in Christ’s invitation to “be not afraid.” We, the JPII Generation, have been given incredible leaders to guide us as we strive to answer Pope Francis’ call “to be builders of the world, to work for a better world.” We look to saints, civil rights leaders, and Christ himself as models of those who engage and do not merely observe. Read More


Four ways to Heal the Social Justice/Pro-life Divide

Millennial writer  Mike Jordan Laskey has a new article at NCR. He writes:

Accept “political homelessness” and live in the tension.

John Carr, the former director of the U.S. bishops’ justice and peace department, uses the phrase “politically homeless” to describe where Catholicism’s consistent ethic of life leaves us. We might be “comfortable with neither Republican economic individualism, which measures everything by the market, nor with Democratic cultural individualism, which celebrates personal ‘choice’ above all else,” he wrote in America. “Neither form of libertarianism leaves enough room for the weak and vulnerable or the common good.”

Political homelessness is hard! I’d love to feel content with either major party, and contribute to and vote for their candidates without thinking too much about it. I want to buy a t-shirt and go to a rally. I’d like to be a fan of the only presidential candidate to prominently feature a quote on economic injustice from Pope Francis on his website — Bernie Sanders — but the candidate’s perfect 100% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America breaks my heart.

Maybe this tension would be more manageable if we put less emphasis on the vote and instead spent more energy lobbying elected leaders on both sides of the aisle. Or, to borrow another favorite line of John Carr’s, if politicians go wherever the wind blows, it’s our job to change the wind.

Acknowledge that the state has valid roles to play in matters of both life and justice.

One point of debate I’ve noticed between pro-lifers and social justice advocates in the church mirrors the secular political debate about the size and scope of government. Many pro-life champions are politically conservative and favor limited governmental intervention — except when it comes to highly regulating and eventually eliminating the practice of abortion. And some social justice activists, even those who are nominally pro-life, are all for robust social program spending and strict regulation but balk at the idea of legal efforts to restrict abortion or protect the rights of the unborn. The ethicist Charles Camosy calls this the “Costanza strategy,” named for the Seinfeld character who spends a famous episode of the series “doing the opposite” of his usual instincts.

Catholic social teaching affirms that the state’s job is to ensure all vulnerable people and groups are protected from various threats. In his encyclical Mater et Magistra, St. John XXIII brings together life and justice concerns in one beautiful passage. “As for the State, its whole raison d’être is the realization of the common good in the temporal order. It cannot, therefore, hold aloof from economic matters,” he writes. “It has also the duty to protect the rights of all its people, and particularly of its weaker members, the workers, women and children.”

Let’s avoid the hypocrisy of the Costanza strategy. The important role of the state is an area where Catholic pro-life champions and social justice activists should be in full accord.

You can read about the other two ways to heal the divide and the rest of the article here.

 


CJH: Gun Control Is a Pro-Life Value

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

The Catholic Church’s advocacy against the U.S.’ inane gun laws has caught the attention of the gun lobby. In 2012, the American bishops’ modest work on the issue frustrated the National Rifle Association so much that they listed the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on its enemies list.

Why are many Christians for stronger gun laws?

The reason is simple: Christians are pro-life. We are called by God to protect, defend and develop life at all stages—from conception on. And with more than 30,000 gun-related deaths in the U.S. every year, our nation’s gun violence is an affront to these pro-life values.

The Bible commands us again and again to say “yes” to life and “no” to death. Does this involve stopping the proliferation of deadly weapons? Absolutely. The prophet Isaiah even tells us that when the messiah enters into human history, he will “beat spears and swords into ploughshares and pruning hooks.”

The full article can be read here.

 

 


The Whole Life Pope: Francis Has the Right Approach to Abortion

In his historic speech to a joint session of the US Congress, Pope Francis said that the Golden Rule “reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.” This statement was clearly meant to include the lives of unborn children yet a number of conservatives in the pro-life movement expressed disappointment that the pope did not take a more confrontational approach.

Personally, I would have been fine with the pope taking Congress to task for its unwillingness to defend unborn life, its inaction on climate change, and its indifference to the poor. Given Congress’ deep unpopularity, most Americans probably would not have minded either if Francis mentioned some of Congress’ many shortcomings. But the pope chose a different approach, a more generous approach that reminded the members of Congress and the American people of our highest aspirations and encouraged us to fulfill those, advancing the cause of justice for all. The speech was not as radical and challenging as his brilliant speech at the World Meeting of Popular Movements in Bolivia this summer, but it reflected his approach of dialogue and encounter. Read More



The Promise and Limits of Finding the Common Ground on Abortion

A common refrain among Catholics who believe that abortion should be legal is that “no one is pro-abortion.” That’s just not true. This is not a disagreement between culture warriors and those who prefer a different approach. It is between those who can accept reality and those who won’t. Some people simply have no moral qualms about aborting a child, just as some people had no problem with one human being owning another. There were pro-slavery tracts that defined it as a positive social good. And now, with the release of Katha Pollitt’s Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights and articles praising it, we are seeing similar positive affirmations of abortion’s positive role in society and the rejection of the idea that it is negative in any way.

Just look at the rhetoric being used:

They have landed us in the era of the “awfulization” of abortion, Pollitt writes, where even pro-choicers are “falling all over themselves” to use words like “thorny,” “vexed,” “complex,” and “difficult” instead of doing what they should be doing, which is saying out loud that abortion is a positive social good….

“Safe, legal and rare,” “Permit but discourage”—these updated slogans have left the pro-choice side advocating the neurotic position that you can have an abortion but only if you feel “really really bad about it,” Pollitt writes.

And here, as well:

Most people, no matter their politics, have absorbed some aspect of the right-wing narrative that abortions are uniformly harrowing and traumatic, when for many women they are brief events that leave no lasting mark….

The fact is that almost everyone probably knows someone who has had an abortion, and we all need to talk about it more honestly. This applies, most of all, to politicians who officially support reproductive rights and yet defend them in such sluggish and spiritless terms—think of Hillary Clinton’s characterization of abortion as a “sad, even tragic choice,” or John Kerry’s vow to make it “the rarest thing in the world.”….

They should be advocating for abortion as a fundamental, safe, and accessible medical option. The immorality, these representatives should make clear, is not in ending pregnancies, but in deepening inequality by denying poor women federal funding for legal abortion via the Hyde Amendment.

I am from the wing of the pro-life movement that refuses to call people pro-aborts or baby killers. When writing, I often use ‘pro-abortion rights,’ which is the standard term for those who aim to be objective when presenting facts in terms of identifying people who support legal access to abortion. In private conversations with supporters of legal abortion, it is not uncommon for me to use the term “pro-choice”, a term that I think is a fairly absurd euphemism, but the preferred language of those with whom I am trying to engage in dialogue. So my aim is not to demonize everyone who identifies as pro-choice or opposes the rights of unborn children.

It is merely to highlight the simple inaccuracy of the claim that no one is pro-abortion. Some people simply do not see abortion as a tragedy, let alone a morally questionable act. And the truth is that this extreme mentality is disproportionately concentrated in those with power, influence, and wealth. Key Democratic Party fundraisers and elites are far more likely to embrace “abortion on demand and without apology” than the average Democrat. These voices are also more common in the media and academia than among the public. That is why this extremism cannot simply be ignored.

A second important reason why recognizing what people actually believe matters is because it allows one to see who is open to dialogue and compromise. You cannot find common ground when it does not exist. If someone thinks abortion is a tragedy, but remains pro-abortion rights, opponents of abortion can still try to find ways to work together with this person to drive down the abortion rate. If someone sees it as a legitimate form of birth control to be used for any reason without any qualms, there is little likelihood of finding common ground.

I wish it was true that “no one is pro-abortion.” But it is not. If we want to work across the abortion divide to drive down the abortion rate, we must start by coming to grips with this reality. Only then will we be able to find dependable partners in assisting pregnant women and saving unborn lives.


A Very Catholic Week: The March for Life, Selma, and Immigration Reform

There are three things I heard over the past week that are stuck in my head.

First, “We are the pro-life generation!” Thousands of young people chanted this refrain at last Thursday’s March for Life in Washington.

Then, “We’re not asking – we’re demanding! Give us the vote!” This was a masterful Daniel Oyelowo portraying Martin Luther King, Jr., in the film Selma, which I saw on Saturday. In the scene, the minister and civil rights leader is speaking to a church congregation of African Americans who had systematically been blocked from registering to vote in Selma, Alabama.

Finally, “La iglesia está con ustedes,” or “The Church stands with you.” This was the message delivered by Bishop Sullivan and pastor Fr. Vince Guest at an information session on President Obama’s immigration executive action at the Parish of the Holy Cross in Bridgeton on Sunday. At the gathering, which drew over 500 people, experts from the Camden Center for Law and Social Justice described the president’s order, which could make thousands of undocumented South Jersey residents eligible for a type of temporary permission to stay in the United States.

Taken together, these lines and the events where I heard them offer some interesting points about discipleship. Here are three:

1) God takes sides; we should, too.

I once heard a conference speaker tell the story of an older brother, a younger sister, and a dad. The brother often picked on his sister, she would call out for Dad’s help, and he would intervene on her behalf. The son complained, “You always take her side! You love her more than me!” The father replied, “It’s because I love you both the same that I take her side. If someone ever picks on you, I’ll take your side.”

This anecdote gets at something crucial about God’s love. Of course He loves all his children the same amount. But like the dad in the story, that doesn’t mean he remains neutral in all conflicts. Instead, as we see over and over again in Scripture, he sides with the oppressed and suffering. Think of the enslaved Israelites in Egypt who Moses leads to freedom, the exiles in Babylon who God’s prophet Isaiah comforts, and the woman caught in adultery who Jesus defends from the angry, judgmental mob. To imitate God’s love in our own lives, we must be on the look-out for similar instances of the powerful targeting certain groups of people, and raise our voices with and for those in harm’s way. What incredible examples of this sort of faith in action I witnessed on the National Mall, at the movie theater, and at Holy Cross.

2) As we do our best to take the side of the poor and vulnerable consistently, we will find that we don’t fit neatly into the American political left/right binary.

I love the consistency of the message woven through my recent experiences: pro-life, pro-racial justice, pro-immigrant family. It reminded me of something Cardinal Timothy Dolan said during a speech a couple years ago. We are called to be comprehensive in our care for “the uns,” he said: “the un-employed; the un-insured; the un-wanted; the un-wed mother, and her innocent, fragile un-born baby in her womb; the un-documented; the un-housed; the un-healthy; the un-fed; the under-educated.”

I imagine a Catholic advocate phoning her Congressman four times in a given week, calling about various issues that the Catholic Church in the US is speaking up about. On Monday, she urges the representative to work toward the legal recognition of the unborn as human beings. On Tuesday, she asks him to protect social safety net programs like food stamps and Medicaid. On Wednesday, she voices opposition to physician-assisted suicide. On Thursday, she calls for a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the US. And on Friday, the congressman’s receptionist wonders aloud, “What party does that woman belong to, anyway?”

If we truly let our faith inform our politics, then that’s the question people might be asking themselves about us.

3) Siding with those who are vulnerable is risky.

In Selma, King gives a sermon in response to the racially motivated murder of a teenager in the town. “Those who have gone before us say, No more! No more!” he says. “That means protest! That means march! That means disturb the peace! That means jail! That means risk! That is hard!”

I think of the hundreds of parishioners who gathered at Holy Cross on Sunday – many of whom, who, despite the risk of deportation, keep working to provide for their families and secure civil rights. I feel for the young pro-life marchers whose peers look at them with suspicion or condescension. Selma invited me to remember those in who were beaten and killed because of their race, and to lift up those who continue the ongoing hard work of racial reconciliation across the country.

After the March for Life, I made it to Lindenwold just in time for our diocesan Respect Life Mass, hosted at the Parish Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Gospel passage selected for the Mass was Matthew’s Beatitudes: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me,” Jesus tells his followers. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

As risky as faith can be, Christ reminds us that he is with us always. There’s no finer solace – and no finer call to action – than that.

This post is also featured on the website The Ampersand for the Diocese of Camden Life & Justice Ministries.