Politics

U.S. Catholic bishops vs. compassion

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ political push to deny communion to politicians who support abortion rights is nothing new. In the 1960s, that body was just about the only organized voice against abortion. But were the bishops less political in those days? No. In 1967, as the New York State Legislature was poised to pass a bill reforming abortion laws, the bishops wrote a pastoral letter calling for Catholics in the state to oppose such reform and directed that the letter be read from every pulpit in the state. The bill was killed in committee–which led pretty directly to the formation of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion (CCS).

Were the bishops more in tune with average Catholics (or vice versa) back then? Again, no. In 1965, as now, a majority of American Catholics believed that legal abortions should be available, at least under some circumstances. Compassionate Catholic clergy–both priests and nuns–worked with the CCS, referring desperate parishioners to the group, or serving as post-abortion counselors for Catholic clients. The New York CCS found that about a third of their clients were Catholic. Though he was against abortion, Father Robert F. Drinan, a Jesuit, argued in The Dublin Review in 1967 for repealing laws prohibiting it, saying, “repeal would not mean that the state approves of abortion but only that it declines to regulate it.” Drinan served for a decade as a member of Congress from Massachusetts, but left office to comply with Pope John Paul II’s call for priests to stay out of politics.

The bishops, however, then and now, have never been shy about politics. As Mollie Wilson O’Reilly wrote recently in the Atlantic, “It has become an article of faith among some Catholics that to be a member of the Church in good standing means voting Republican; that this is not literally an article of our faith is something many bishops are content to obfuscate.” O’Reilly points out that Donald Trump’s attorney general Bill Barr, a Catholic, oversaw the reinstatement and increased application of the death penalty. The bishops said nothing about withholding communion from Barr, though the Church condemns capital punishment just as it does abortion.

Jamie Manson, president of Catholics for Choice, is quoted in Salon as saying, “To use what is most sacred about our church and sacred to Biden, to punish him or try to bully him into changing his views on abortion rights, is very troubling,” she said. “The bishops taking part in this are part of a right-wing political agenda in this country. It’s very scary.”

Where is the love in all of this? The most compassionate response we’ve read has come from Father John D. Whitney, a Jesuit, who wrote on his Facebook page: “I want to write a longer piece about those bishops who seek to keep some from the table of Christ, but for now I will say this: it is not you[r] table (nor mine). Bishops, priests, etc. are neither the hosts nor the bouncers nor the ones who wrote the guest list. The Eucharist is the resurrected body of Christ given for the life of the world. Jesus Christ is the one who invites the guests (‘all you who labor’); he is the host of those who come; he is the setter of the table; and he is the feast which is shared (‘Take this, all of you. . .this is my body, this is my blood’). We are guests at the meal, and sometimes (by his calling) servers. So stay in your lane, please. The wait staff doesn’t get to exclude those who want to come. If you don’t like the company Christ calls (and, admittedly, it is a rag tag bunch of sinners, one and all), it’s you who need to leave the table, not them.”

Politics

Former peer sex educator elected to U.S. Senate

Much has happened this eventful week. But let’s not forget the good news of the morning of January 6, 2021. The Black voters, Black organizers, and specifically the amazing Stacey Abrams have worked a wonder: transforming Georgia through education, voter registration, and sheer hard work.  Georgia has elected its first Black senator, a Democratic, pro-choice minister, Rev. Raphael Warnock.

Warnock’s reproductive justice credentials go way back. As Anoa Changa wrote in an article for Harper’s Bazaar last month, Warnock worked as a peer sex educator when he was a high school student in Savannah. He was employed by the family health division of Georgia’s Department of Human Resources to write their first sex ed handout for teens. As a Morehouse College student, he organized a team of peer counselors around the state. And when he became a pastor in Baltimore, he brought the faith community together to address HIV/AIDS.

Changa wrote that Warnock’s dedication to sexual health work has its basis in Black liberation theology, a topic Warnock spoke about in a 2013 address at Yale Divinity School.

Of course, we know that, as legal scholar Mary Ziegler wrote in the Atlantic, “There have always been pro-choice pastors such as Reverend Warnock.” But not many have been U.S. senators. We should be jubilant that his faithful support for health care for the vulnerable and abortion rights has been long, consistent, and outspoken, and we can expect Reverend Senator Warnock to continue that fight in the U.S. Senate.

Links, Politics

Thoughts on single-issue voting

Yes, it’s election season in the U.S. And, as they have since the 1980s, anti-abortion activists are busy trying to convince many religious Americans that only one issue should determine their vote: ending access to abortion.

Like the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion before it, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice supports reproductive freedom and has long fought the notion that all people of faith condemn abortion. In fact, most people of faith do not.

And the horrors of the past four years–mistreatment of immigrants and separation of small children from their families, police killings of black people, administration support for white supremacists, withholding of universal health care during a pandemic–have brought out dramatic reminders to “moral-grounds” voters that there are many other issues to consider in an election.

David E. DeCosse, director of religious and Catholic ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, reminds Catholics that “No Catholic is bound to vote on the basis of abortion alone.” In “Catholics, Voting, and Abortion: Time to Correct the Record,” in the National Catholic Reporter, he writes, “. . . Catholics should take abortion seriously but also consider the full range of serious issues at stake. (In other words, for the sake of the common good, it’s generally better not to vote on the basis of a single issue.) In this election, these issues certainly include the character of the candidates, the management of the pandemic, racism, the economy, climate change, immigration, domestic and international peace and more.”

Rev. Carl Kline reflects on his experience as a member of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion in an article for the Brookings (South Dakota) Register, “Christians Should Not Focus on a Single Moral Issue.” He wonders why so many Christians focus on abortion–about which Jesus said nothing–and overlook his actual teachings. “It pains me to think Christians can be so focused on a single moral issue that they ignore all the others. Take the issue of killing. Does the command of Jesus include not killing killers, as our president has resumed the death penalty in federal cases in this country; six dead so far? What does Jesus say about 35 bullets sprayed around and into Breonna Taylor; or a knee on a neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds until all breath is gone? Or what about southern neighbors, dying in detention centers or sent back to sure death in their own country? Are these the ones Jesus would have us love, as ourself?”

If the Republican senate rushes to approve an anti-choice appointment to the Supreme Court, will anti-abortion voters feel satisfied and turn their election attention to other issues–issues that their religious teachings actually call them to consider? We’ll see.

Abortion Access Today, Politics

Abortion bans: about power and control

As reported by TV station KRQE, motorists on I-25 in New Mexico are seeing new billboards with a powerful message: “Rape is about power and control. So are abortion bans. Keep abortion safe and legal.” The billboards are sponsored by Progress Now New Mexico, whose Marianna Anaya writes, “Across the United States, there is an epidemic of politicians, governments and extremists who are trying to assert power and control over our bodies by means of banning abortion- a personal decision that should always remain between a person and their doctor. By taking away our personal decision-making abilities, we are being stripped of respect, and being stripped of autonomy.”

And a recent poll of U.S. voters backs up the billboards’ message. The Supermajority/PerryUndem poll found “that anti-abortion voters are among the most likely – if not the most likely – segment to hold inegalitarian views” regarding gender equality. In other words, as Jill Filipovic writes in The Guardian, “Anti-abortion advocacy pushes the view that life begins at conception; the name of their movement carefully centers the conceit that opposition to abortion rights is simply about wanting to save human lives. A new poll shows that’s a lie. The ‘pro-life’ movement is fundamentally about misogyny.” She follows up with the details; do read her whole column.

This year let’s be inspired by that New Mexico billboard to call misogyny–and racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and all forms of hateful disempowerment–exactly what it is, and work together to make better policy, better laws, a better world. Our voices–including our billboards–our work, our donations, and most of all our votes can make the change.