The deficit debate

By George Clifford


As a Christian priest and ethicist, I found the recent U.S. Congressional debates over raising the debt ceiling deeply disturbing for two reasons. First, the deficit debates revealed the disturbingly rapid pace at which self-interest appears to be supplanting concern for the least among us in American churches.

The Christian path that I understand and try to travel encourages disciples to emulate Jesus’ example and teaching by putting others on a par with self, if not ahead of self. This especially connotes caring for the most vulnerable among us.

I’m thankful that I live in a secular, pluralistic nation. However, many of our elected politicians self identify as Christian and a growing number of them try to capitalize upon their personal faith declarations when campaigning for election. Voters reasonably expect these individuals, if elected, to express their Christian values in their speeches and votes – at least some of the time.

Collectively, these politicians failed to stand vocally and firmly against legislative actions that might endanger the well-being of our nation’s most vulnerable residents. Instead, some of them adhered to campaign rhetoric and promises that are contrary to my understanding of Christianity. Others, who had voiced more compatible campaign rhetoric and promises, were publicly silent or attracted little media attention to their defense of the most vulnerable.

A cynic might suggest that the gospel of self-help draws bigger crowds than does emphasizing Matthew 25 and costly love. This perversion of Jesus quite probably represents a greater threat to Christianity’s future than secularism does. The deficit debates are a telling milestone of how far religion in America has moved in that direction.

Second, the deficit debates exposed the fragile and perilous condition of community in America. The tone of public discourse frequently lacked civility. More importantly, during the debates, I heard much dishonesty about important issues at stake, widespread advocacy of fiscal policies that would have had the unintended (or so I want to hope) consequences of further fracturing the foundations of our communal life, and explicit attacks on the integrity and good faith efforts of the vast majority of government employees. Demagoguery commonly masqueraded as reason, evoking too few objections. Individualism was ascendant and community on the wane. Mutual respect and trust yielded to mutual suspicion and animosity. These fault lines, unless healed, bode ill for the communal mutual interdependence to which God calls us and that best enables human flourishing.

Balancing the federal budget without increased revenues would require eliminating 40 cents of every dollar the government now spends. Thankfully, the U.S. government is not corrupt or ineffectual on that scale, even according to its harshest critics. In other words, eliminating the federal deficit without any tax increases will require substantial cuts or wholesale elimination of multiple programs. The Defense Department, Social Security, and three health insurance programs (Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program) each account for approximately 20% of the federal budget. Social safety net programs (14%) and debt interest payments (6%) are another 20% of federal spending. The other 20% funds the remainder of government operations (transportation, education, government retiree benefits, foreign aid, etc.).

One oft-heard sound bite during the debates asked, “Can you or the government do a better job of spending your money?” The speaker left the question unanswered, presuming that everybody agrees she/he can spend her/his money better than the government. I vehemently disagree. The federal government spends my tax dollars much better than I could. With my taxes, I buy, in no particular order of priority:

• One of the best, if not the best, highway systems in the world;
• Most healthcare for everybody in this country over age 65 and much of the healthcare for the poorest Americans;
• Pensions for the elderly;
• The assurance of generally safe food, drugs, consumer goods, air transport, etc.;
• The closest approximation to the rule of law, justice, and civil rights for all in the history of the world (not perfect by any means, but far better than in most countries);
• About 10% of the cost of educating children in the U.S.;
• More defense than I want or need.

You might list other goods and services the federal government provides that you especially value, no matter how imperfect they are. Whatever your list, if it’s honest, is well beyond what you could afford as an individual – unless perhaps you are a billionaire. Even then, I’m willing to bet that you get a decent bargain in return for the taxes you pay.

Can the United States federal government achieve a greater degree of fiscal responsibility? Absolutely. Is some government spending fraudulent, wasteful, or abusive? Without a doubt. Is every government program important for sustaining our communal life? No. We rightly debate those questions. Identifying optimal government policies, programs, and funding priorities – even if all citizens shared common values – is impossible because nobody has a crystal ball with which to predict future outcomes.

However, reductions in government spending will reduce employment when unemployment remains above 9.1% of the workforce and much, much higher for certain segments of the workforce (e.g., young black males). Underemployment remains a significant but unquantifiable problem. Indeed, a recent New York Times/CBS poll showed that voters disapprove of Congress’ job performance at an all-time high, rate job creation more important than deficit reduction, advocate raising taxes to balance the federal budget, and believe politicians must compromise to make government work.

As Christians, we bring to public discourse about public finances a concern for the well-being of the least among us and for the strength of our community. The Eucharistic readings for Laurence, Deacon and Martyr at Rome (August 10, 258), in Holy Women, Holy Men speak to the federal budget battles that will continue in upcoming months and years:
"He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." (II Corinthians 9:9)
“Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” (John 12:24-26a)

Before executing Laurence, the prefect demanded that the archdeacon Laurence, responsible for the Church’s welfare programs, reveal where to find the Church’s treasures. According to legend, Laurence responded by assembling the poor and the sick and then telling the prefect, “These are the treasures of the Church.” The prefect then supposedly ordered Laurence roasted alive. The Greek root of the English word “martyr” means witness. The deficit debates make me think that we need a new generation of witnesses, holy women and holy men who will witness to the way of Jesus regardless of the cost to their pocketbooks.

George Clifford is an ethicist and a priest in the Diocese of North Carolina. He retired from the Navy after serving as a chaplain for twenty-four years and now blogs at Ethical Musings (http://blog.ethicalmusings.com/).

The hummingbirds of public life

By Marshall Scott

This has been a hard summer. It has been the hottest summer of recent, and perhaps not so recent, memory. The gardens have suffered, both at church and at home. With a blessing and a little water we’ll get zucchini and crookneck squash, and perhaps a few watermelons in the church garden. The bush beans will survive, as will the poblanos and the sweet peppers. On the other hand, cucumber beetles have brought wilt, not only to the cucumbers, but to the musk melons.

Trying to get the most out of the church garden has meant the garden at home has been neglected. Beans and butternuts are doing well, and I have hope for my hot peppers; but the squirrels got more peaches, and the robins more blueberries, than we did.

The heat has been hard enough on the plants themselves, but it’s also been harder on us. However great the commitment, when the temperature is approaching 90 degrees, and the “misery index” 100 by 9:00 a.m, the most intrepid of us are as wilted as the cucumbers, and at greater risk. It has been a hard summer for the garden and the gardeners.

And life goes on. The best evidence is around two glass cylinders hanging in the back yard. They are hummingbird feeders. They have been up for a while, although it’s been too early for many hummingbirds. We thought we might see a few migrants early, or perhaps an individual strayed from a nest. But while we’ve waited, the feeders have still been busy. We have been feeding The Sisters. “The Sisters” is our family term for social insects we encounter. Right now, it’s honeybees. We’re happy to have them, of course. Despite the heat the beans and peppers are blooming. On top of that, we think – we hope at least – that we’re sustaining a hive in a time when colony collapse is taking too many.

And now the hummingbirds are starting to arrive. We have seen two. If this summer is like the last two, we’ll have three, four, even five at a time. We will hear the hum and see flashes of green and red – and go through an awful lot of sugar.

What we find most dramatic about the hummers, at least in our back yard, is their aerial combat. It’s easy to see why the Aztecs identified their god of war with hummingbirds. They are territorial, and will fight one another with a ferocity that might seem shocking in so small and bright a creature. In our presence two have collided in midair with a thump we could hear ten feet away. We have seen one hummer drive another to the ground from eight feet in the air.

What is striking about this is that they appear to be territorial for its own sake. I don’t really mean that they have a concept of “territory.” It’s just that they’re not territorial for any of the reasons we expect. There is more than enough food to go around. By the time it’s all over, we may have four feeders out, feeders that we’ll fill every day if we need to. There are also the beans and the peppers. Their young have already fledged, and so they’re not protecting nests. Anyway, we’re too far from the streams where they nest.

No, more than anything else it seems that they can’t stand one another’s company, at least when they’re not breeding, and they want control of their space and its resources. They will stake out territory and spend great amounts of energy – energy that is surely precious to a creature that lives so fast! – to keep others away. It’s not about a functional need, at least not one visible in my own back yard. It’s just instinctual.

I could wish, I suppose, that we had that excuse, we humans. We are quite prepared to stake out territories of our own, territories based not on perceived need but on an assertion of rights or of rightness. And when we do, we are also prepared to defend them fiercely, even at the expense of resources that we know we could better use in other ways.

Look at all the recent unpleasantness in our own government. I find it fun (if not perfectly apt) to think of our members of Congress, and especially in the House of Representatives, like hummingbirds. Granted, some are flashier than others. However, they are, as a class, creatures focused intensely on a short season – from one election to the next. And all too many seem to have staked out “territories” in the “marketplace of ideas” (not to mention the territories of their own offices), territories that they defend as if there were no tomorrow, and not enough of today to go around. When I think about it, I can identify with Paul in Romans 9 when he expresses his despair: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people,* my kindred according to the flesh.” (Romans 9:2-3)

After all, these are my representatives. I know I didn’t vote in each election, or even vote for all of those who officially represent me and my district and my state. Still, I am within the real territory, the geographic and not the ideological territory, that they have been elected to represent.

Sadly, and all too consistently, they claim their ideological territory not their own names but in mine. Worse, these days they claim it to be in my interest. My problem is that what they want to claim is not in my interest. Even without reference to faith, it’s demonstrably not in my interest. Look, for example, at the information collected for Notre Dame’s Science of Generosity Initiative. That’s where I found a paper on “The Health Benefits of Volunteering.” It’s also how I found my way to a working paper at the Harvard Business School, “Prosocial Spending and Well-Being: Cross-Cultural Evidence for a Psychological Universal” (Aknin et al). According to the abstract, “Analyzing survey data from 136 countries, we show that prosocial spending is consistently associated with greater happiness…. In contrast to traditional economic thought—which places self-interest as the guiding principle of human motivation—our findings suggest that the reward experienced from helping others may be deeply ingrained in human nature, emerging in diverse cultural and economic contexts.”

But, of course, I can’t simply consider this without reference to faith. As a Christian I am reminded again and again that I am called to share with others, and not simply defend my own territory. I am told that all that God intends can be summarized in demonstrating my love of God by loving neighbor. I am reminded that what God wants of me includes doing justice and loving mercy and walking humbly – not fiercely, not defensively – before God. With each new Episcopal brother and sister I commit again and again to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to respect the dignity of every human being, and not simply those in my territory. It seems to me that I am called to pursue this end with all my resources – including those that I pay out personally, those that I delegate to the Church to use, and those I delegate to my government to use.

When I’m sitting on my deck, the aerobatic combat of the hummingbirds can be entertaining and in its own way beautiful. When leaders start acting like hummingbirds, defending ideological territories and hoarding resources, it ceases to be productive, much less entertaining. When they claim to do it in my name, it becomes offensive. God grant me grace to work, pray, and give for the spread of the Kingdom, as much in my civic life as in my personal and ecclesial life – and to call to account those who fail in that effort, claiming to do so in my interest. For it is not hoarding and selfishness that are in my interest, but generosity and giving, as a person, as a citizen, and as a follower of Christ.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a hospital chaplain in the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

Vicar tells all: Sarah Palin's history flub, and how it happened

By Stephen T. Ayres

Here is the inside scoop on the Boston history massacre.

I had carefully set aside last Thursday to work on the sermon to be delivered at my 35th reunion at Hamilton College last weekend. Then the National Park Service called Wednesday afternoon inquiring whether we could open up early for a special visitor. No problem. We are a house of prayer for all people and we try to be hospitable to politicians of all stripes, whether or not we happen to agree with them.

I arrived around 7:45 Thursday morning and immediately fielded a phone call from the NPS police asking if they could bring a bomb sniffing dog by to secure the church. Given how freely Governor Palin mingled with the crowds later that morning, the bomb sniffer seemed like a bit of overkill, but I guess if you have a bomb sniffing dog, you take every advantage of an opportunity to use him. The intrepid hound found two suspicious looking bags, which turned out to be used clothing left in the donation box pew. The last time I saw the NPS bomb sniffer was aboard USS Constitution during a turnaround cruise. While there were no bombs aboard, the poor pup freaked out when the canons were fired.

About 8:30, we thought we spotted Governor Palin shopping by herself in the gift shop across the street. We went over to investigate, but she turned out to be a Sarah Palin impersonator, who just happened to be in the neighborhood returning a tee shirt she had purchased. Such a coincidence!

The governor's entourage pulled up around nine, just as a school group from Waltham was entering the church. She was accompanied by her parents, her daughter, Piper, two aides and a photographer. Fifteen or twenty media people materialized seconds after. The first to greet the Governor was Dino DiFronzo of Parziale's Bakery, who encouraged the governor to stop by for coffee and pastry after her visit to Old North. This is probably the first time a politician has gone anywhere but Mike's Pastry in the North End, and given Governor Palin's subsequent experience there, it may be the last.

The impersonator, named Cecelia Thompson, was next up to greet the governor, skillfully getting her picture with the governor in the paper. Governor Palin offered to let Cecelia take on press duties for the morning. Unfortunately for the governor, Cecilia stayed at Old North after the entourage headed off to Parziale's.

Finally Foundation director, Ed Pignone, and I greeted the governor and escorted her party inside. Governor Palin told me she had been to Old North once before as a hockey mom with her son's team. She encouraged them to pay attention because knowing our history is so important. On Thursday, she had to encourage her daughter to pay attention as the media cameras were somewhat distracting. The family was quite charming, particularly the governor's parents. They didn't strike me as very different from the 500,000 other visitors we see each year. They asked a number of questions about our story, laughed at my jokes, and enjoyed themselves.

I gave them our standard talk about Paul Revere and the two men who hung the lanterns in the steeple, Robert Newman and John Pulling. I added a bit about the debate between John Hancock and Sam Adams after they received the warning from Revere (Hancock: "Staying and fighting will look good on my resume when I run for president." Adams: "You are too rich to fight. Let's get out of here." Adams ultimately won that debate.) I did mention that Revere was arrested by British troops and led back to Lexington, warning those British troops that the minutemen had been alerted.

After the introductory talk, we climbed up to the bell ringing chamber, where I talked about how Paul Revere how founded our bell ringing guild in 1750 as a teenager. Governor Palin was particularly interested to see a copy of the original bell ringing contract between Paul Revere and his friends and the rector of Old North, Dr. Cutler. The contract portrays a group of teenagers using democratic principles to organize their bell ringing guild. We did not have the time to get to the top of the steeple to see the lanterns.

We briefly toured the tombs beneath the church before exiting to a large and excited crowd. Governor Palin handed out signed copies of the Constitution. Like John Hancock, her signature was clearly visible. The governor then went into the gift shop to buy a few souvenirs (like all good visitors should!) Her visit to Old North stay lasted nearly an hour.

We left the campus and walked down the street to Parziale's Bakery. I cannot testify to what happened inside, as I was distracted by The Daily Show's John Oliver, who was haranguing me about giving our fair city back to the British and questioning Old North's role in betraying the Crown and head of our church. The truth be told, my predecessor, the Rev. Mather Byles, Jr. left the employ of the church the morning the lanterns were hung and cannot be blamed for the unfortunate rebellion that ensued.

I was surprised and bemused when the video of Governor Palin's impromptu history quiz went viral the next day. I knew where all the factoids she cited came from and take responsibility for putting them in her head. I will not take the blame for the odd order those factoids came out. Perhaps it was too much information in too short a period of time to digest properly. Maybe if we climbed to the top of the steeple and viewed the lanterns, the governor wouldn't have focused on the bells. Who knows?

I am amazed that this silly story refuses to die. Lots of pundits berated Governor Palin's grasp of history. Many of them have made their own mistakes, usually of the Revere cried out "The British are coming!" variety. If Revere yelled anything streaking across the countryside, he might have been shot by a local Tory or by one of the many British patrols out that night. He never would have said "The British are coming!", because everyone was British then. He may have said "The Regulars are out!"

A story just came across the web from The Washington Post that a battle is brewing over at Wikipedia, where some Palin supporters have attempted to rewrite the entry on Paul Revere to reflect the governor's interview. This isn't the first time Paul Revere's story has been revised. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow took a great deal of poetic license in retelling the story in Paul Revere's Ride, a political poem published on the eve of the Civil War. While Longfellow upset antiquarians in New England, he was not subjected to thousands of newspaper stories and blog comments attacking or defending his poem. One hundred and fifty years later most of the pundits and many of us assume Longfellow's poem was historically correct. I hate to break it to you, but Revere was not standing on the opposite shore, did not make it as far as Concord (Massachusetts or New Hampshire) that night, and finished his ride to Lexington before midnight.

As vicar of the Old North Church, I am profoundly grateful for Governor Palin's visit. She succeeded in her stated intention of drawing attention to America's historical sites and inadvertently provided us with priceless free publicity by misplacing a few facts when quizzed on her visit. I hope all of her political peers from both parties come to visit the church where historically Paul Revere's ride began and where mythically, thanks to Longfellow, God blessed America. We will be happy to give any politician a thorough history lesson and a few crib cards in case the media is lurking in the weeds. You can't go wrong with "One if by land, or two if by sea" when the cameras are rolling.

I am somewhat saddened by what passes for news and for fact these days. We can laugh at Governor Palin, who may not have gotten all her facts wrong, but certainly didn't get them all straight. But what does this story, with its incredible legs, say about the rest of us? Why was such a large media contingent following the governor in the first place, particularly when many of them were publicly complaining that the trip was not newsworthy? What do we say to the pundits who accuse Palin of mangling history while treating Longfellow's poetic interpretation of the ride as fact? Why have so many prominent historians weighed in on this story to criticize or defend Palin's off the cuff remarks? For that matter, why am I weighing in?

Is spectacle more newsworthy than substance? Do firmly held opinions take precedence over fact? What is truth, or is it truthiness?

The Rev. Stephen T. Ayres is vicar of the Old North Church, also known as Christ Church in the City of Boston. This essay first appeared in the parish's weekly e-mail newsletter.

The modest charms of the petit bourgeois

By John Graham

American historian Christopher Lasch wrote that when critics accused Martin Luther King Jr.'s civil rights movement of being "petit bourgeois," many of King's followers responded, in essence, "Yes, and what's your point?"

The term petit bourgeois covers a multitude of sins and virtues. Among them is surely the desire to "do for myself," or "do for ourselves". King's movement neces- sarily addressed larger issues of law and policy, but mostly in the service of opening opportunities for individuals, families and communities to "do for themselves": address their own issues, provide for their own needs.

Recent events in Tunisia, Egypt and beyond reflect this petit bourgeois aspect of the U.S. civil rights movement. The young man whose self-immolation catalyzed the Tunisian uprising was just trying to start a small business, so he could care for himself and his family. Government enforcers made it so difficult to do so that he found his life unbearable. Many of the Egyptian protestors were young people who just wanted to live honorable, decent lives; the regime that governed them made this modest goal ridiculously hard to achieve.

All of this might put us in mind of that avowedly petit bourgeois apostle, Paul. In the third chapter of his second letter to the Thessalonians, he writes: "...we (Paul and his fellow-apostles) were not idle when we were with you, we did not eat any one's bread without paying, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you." He adds, here and in his second letter to the Corinthians, that we should not only work hard to avoid burdening others, but also so that we'll have something with which help those in need when the occasion arises.

Some great movements have very modest goals. Paul's mission, King's movement, the Tunisian and Egyptian insurgencies: each embraced revolutionary change, but eschewed grandiosity. For this reason, perhaps, they reach across the centuries, or half-way across the world, to touch and inspire us.

The Rev. John Graham is rector of Grace, Georgetown in Washington, D. C. This article was previously published in Washington Window.

Who are Britain's new Conservatives?

By Adrian Worsfold

The British have a new government, a coalition government after its three party based first past the post system failed to produce a majority for one party.

New Labour had, basically, come to its end. The one time big tent centre to the left spread of the party's appeal had hollowed out its own base support, at least in England. Having gone on to lose so much acquired middle class support it returned to rediscover its base, all perhaps too late. Gordon Brown was a manager of detail, but lacked vision and taking decisions ahead of the curve. On the other hand, memories of the Thatcherite Conservatives were ever continuous, and the Conservative leader David Cameron was untried and unknown as to whether his Big Society just meant a smaller State and Thatcher mark II. Then arose Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, who seemed to shine from nowhere with his communication skills in the almost presidential debates, except that in the last week some of the policies were hammered by the critics and he started to sound repetitive. Labour in fact fought a last minute rearguard campaign to some effect, and Cameron also had a last minute flourish.

The Liberal Democrats' vote went up by only 1% from last time, but the number of seats fell. Their 23% produced 57 seats, Labour's 29% of the vote produced 258 seats, and The Conservatives' 36% produced 306 seats. Others received 28 seats from 12% of the vote. There is a delayed vote in one constituency, where the front runners normally are the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, and remain opposing each other there. Meanwhile, David Cameron has made a virtue of fixing a coalition with the Liberal Democrats that followed intense negotiations, and he was also pushed this way further by not one of his allied Ulster Unionists winning a Westminster seat, a joining that, in my view, potentially undermined British honest brokering regarding the parties in Northern Ireland. The new one seat win of the non-sectarian Alliance Party from there ought to side with its sister party, the Liberal Democrats, but it may retain independence.

Many who supported the Liberal Democrats voted in order to keep the Conservatives out of power. However, when a broad left coalition was tested, it was not so much the necessity of bringing in left-wing nationalists, the Green and Alliance that was the problem, but that significant numbers of the Labour Party itself who had lost the will to make such a coalition and to carry on in power.

The actual outcome coalition seems to be giving David Cameron the opportunity to modernise the Conservative Party further towards the centre and to actually do some of the reforms New Labour considered but never did because of its self-sufficient majorities. Originally Tony Blair, who openly warmed to the liberal tradition, had considered 'bringing in' the Liberal Democrats and introducing voting and constitutional reform, but there was a lack of necessity. He missed this opportunity like he missed entering Britain into the euro currency. In fact he missed a lot of things and then seemed to enter into his own junior coalition with President Bush, assisting the ongoing draining of support from Labour.

I voted Liberal Democrat and yet, in a Labour-Conservative marginal, was tempted to vote Labour despite not wanting to offer it positive support. However, I am a liberal in political economy and religion, and so I voted my first choice, and it is a largely misunderstood ideological position.

The Liberal Democrats are the combination of the historical Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party that broke away from a left wing Labour Party in the 1980s. The Liberals are themselves descended from the Whig Party, so that the Whigs and the Tories were the land owning elites who rotated political power. The present Conservative Party descends from those Tories who were in favour of free trade. The Liberals attracted the middle class industrialists and the urban radicals, and increasingly became more social liberal and welfare reforming than economic liberal - yet still individualist - but in terms of government were superseded by the collectivist socialistic Labour Party, whose high point was the considerable nationalisation and socialisation of business and welfare immediately after the Second World War. The Conservatives adopted the welfare state with mixed economy as part of its 'national party' outlook, but under the revolutionary Margaret Thatcher adopted what is known as 'Manchester Liberalism', or economic liberalism, that of private wealth and public basics. Whilst she flushed out inflation, a lot of price inflation was held down by far eastern competition. Tony Blair, in privatising further, and in further liberalising finance, had much in common with his main predecessor, except that he poured money into collaborative not competitive public services, some of which were provided by private firms under contract. A lot of this public and private wealth generation was through private lending, which, along with consumer and property debt(and inflated property prices being where the inflation went), led to the debt crisis that we have today.

Back in the days of the two party social democratic consensus, the Liberal Party shrunk to 3 seats and 2% of the vote in 1955. Jo Grimond (1913-1993) became its philosopher leader, building the Liberals as pro-ideas and anti-interests (neither unions nor business), and an opponent of bureaucratic state action as the means to social change. He favoured local decentralisation and participation in decision making structures by individuals in communities with freedom of choice as foundation rock. This was therefore a radicalism different from Labour at the time.

Such liberalism was consistent with the Liberal past, and it is why liberalism never stretched into the collectivist industrial working class. This is also parallel with the Unitarians as religious liberals, who could run many a Sunday school and welfare organisation to draw in 'outer ring' working class children and parents, but it was never itself able to convert its radicalism into a religious form of socialism. Unitarian religion had its origins in middle class English Presbyterian merchants and then in urban capitalism; it drew on the ideology of the Scottish and French Enlightenment. They were once Manchester Liberals, thus economic liberals that became, with social conscience and radical outreach, social liberals. Incidentally, Labour Churches were a flop: from the beginning, working class movements were secular. Whilst the Church of England was feudal at base, all the denominations were middle class in agitation for reform and in people. There were chapels of the 'respectable working class' and exceptions among dangerous primary industry workers, but these were exceptions. Nevertheless the middle class intellectual socialist did draw on some 'respectable' denominational and post war 'Christian socialist' roots as well as purely secular socialist ideology.

The Church of England was long called the Tory Party at prayer, a label broken by the anti-traditionalist Manchester Liberalism (and 'couldn't care less' stance) of Thatcherism, whereas New Labour looked to the different faiths for some ethical values and sought to give a leg up to the lowest (while the upper end of the social scale became richer and richer). So what now?

In my view, the current government of a minority of Liberal Democrats nevertheless represents exactly the Jo Grimond ideological position, including those untested parts of New Labour that this government seems intent on embodying and enacting. If Thatcher's was an economic liberal government, this is a social liberal government, and Cameron seems suddenly to relish the fact.

Yet it is a difficult ideology to explain. It just seems unusual and different. The Unitarians have the same problem, in that the 'Just what do you stand for?' question has such an acquired, long term, difficult to address, answer. Here is an answer. It is about the liberty of each individual to believe as wanted but responsibly, drawing on the resources of the different faiths and an awe for the wonder of science, and to do it in dialogue inside communities (very equalitarian congregations), and to be socially aware and active, to basically uphold the dignity of the cultural and biological human individual and all of life around.

In religious terms it is not left and it is not right. This, I believe, is also how to understand the new government in Britain intellectually. It will be about political reform, ideas over interests, anti-bureaucratic and decentralising, and for individuals in communities. But not a lot of people may understand it, and many a Conservative may be upset.

Adrian Worsfold (Pluralist), has a doctorate in sociology and a masters degree in contemporary theology. He lives near Hull, in northeast England and keeps the blog Pluralist Speaks.

The wages of fear

By Donald Schell

The Easter Gospels (like the Christmas Gospels) are shot through with fear. Why do angels keep telling us not to be afraid? Don’t they know there’s danger out there?

In the early darkness after San Francisco’s 1989 earthquake, my wife and I stood on the roof of our house looking out over the Marina district. Our son and daughter huddled against us. We were very quiet, and the city was in blackness. The power had failed. In the darkness we watched a five storey apartment building explode and collapse in on itself. Huge flames from the fire lit the dark evening. Just as in San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake, where wildfire destroyed much more of the city than the earthquake had, broken water lines rendered fire hydrants useless. Old photos of San Francisco’s ashes after 1906 haunted me.

We sighed our relief when an arc of water shot up from a fire truck. High-arching plumes sparkled red in the firelight. Generator-driven searchlights lit the building and the water. From our battery-powered emergency radio we heard that firefighters had run hoses from a fireboat ashore to a pumper truck. The newsman said this was what they’d done in 1906, but confidently claimed that this time the seawater would make it easy for the firefighters to beat the fire. We watched and listened. As the newscaster’s calm voice assured us the Marina fire was under control, the arc of water faltered and stopped. The searchlights went dark. Flames surged higher. For a few minutes the newsman talked on of other disaster response areas.

Abruptly he stopped what he was reporting; perhaps someone had handed him a note. We heard his tight, measured voice say, “The Marina fire appears to be out of control again.” Twice, then three times, we heard the same premature announcement and each time the resurgent fire’s threat felt bigger.

Our nine-year old son, until that moment the bravest and most stubbornly independent kid I’d ever known, leaned into me for safety and took my hand. “Dad, is the fire going to come this way?”

“I don’t know.” I answered. I didn’t know. It was a still evening, a moment of dead calm in our windy city. But the weather could change quickly. What else could I say? “We’ll watch after you’re in bed. If the fire stays out of control, mom and I will take turns, and if we even think it might spread and come this way, we’ll get us out of here.”

“Will the house burn down?”

“It could.”

We watched quietly for an hour as firefighters got the fireboat to truck connection working. Gradually with plenty of water, they really did contain the fire. We couldn’t see flames any longer, just a glow from where the building had been. It finally seemed safe enough to kiss the children good-night, to hope for another day, to sleep in the stillness and listen for the Spirit telling us that we were not alone.

In the long nightmare after 9/11 we didn’t know how to stand together as leaders’ voices told us how very alone we were, that our lives and homes and way of life were all in danger, that we could lose everything and needed to be afraid. To hold fear at bay, our country needed to unleash carpet bombing on Afghan and Iraqi villages, we sent over thousands of American troops and have now lost more Americans fighting the war than were killed in the terrorist attacks, and we’re not counting Iraqi dead. Our safety has been the rationale for using torture to gather intelligence of coming terror threats from all those frightening places outside our borders where people hate us and want to destroy our way of life.

By 2008 Franklin Roosevelt starts to sound like a theologian or a prophet, ‘We have nothing to fear except fear itself.’ In fact Roosevelt’s words make a decent summary of the Resurrection Gospel. The resurrected Jesus returns to deliver us from our double addiction to fear and to safety.

A day or so after 9/11, an Israeli friend who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area said several people asked him how he managed to make his commute across the Bay Bridge – didn’t he know that it might be the next target? My friend’s simple answer? “I grew up in Jerusalem.”

My friend had it right. After 9/11, I heard familiar Bible texts challenging us in a new way. They were inviting us all to grow up in Jerusalem. Jerusalem of two millennia ago, like today’s Jerusalem, was a loved holy place with constant threats, fears, and frequent experience of death. After 9/11, bald, brazen voices of the prophets assured the people that life was more than death, pillage and famine. The prophets spoke their hard comfort to people who had lost everything and wondered where God was, to frightened people who had survived imperial armies’ raping and murdering rage, to survivors who had seen their homes and fields burned, their livestock slaughtered and left to rot -- people who had lost everything and wondered where God was.

The prophets’ message was beyond politics. They saw the threat to their nation and called the people and rulers to justice, to care for the poor, to loving mercy and to walking humbly with God. Our leaders (like the royal leaders of ancient Israel) caution us that safety comes at an inevitable cost: in extraordinary times our historic commitments to freedom and human dignity demand holding prisoners indefinitely without charges and torturing suspects to protect us from terrorist threats. Then they assure us that without their leadership terrible things would have happened. It’s no stretch to hear biblical prophets (who rejected the power of chariots to keep people safe) jeering at metal detectors and border walls, just as they would have ridiculed President Clinton for insisting after the Oklahoma City bombing that we should, ‘tell the children of America that this will never happen again.’

Denial and wishful thinking aren’t what we need to hear. Angels and Jesus don’t tell us “Do not be afraid because nothing bad will ever happen again.” Our Easter Jesus appears to disciples hiding in a locked room in fear for their lives. After he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit,’ the world was still dangerous, but Jesus sent his friends into that dangerous world to preach and share forgiveness. Like the prophets, like my friend who grew up in Jerusalem, like the disciples, can we listen for a simpler promise? God stands by people, unwaveringly faithful, still blessing life. Jesus says to his disciples, “I am with you always, to the end of the ages.”

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is Creative Director of All Saints Company, working for community development in congregational life focusing on sharing leadership, welcoming creativity, building community through music, and making liturgical architecture a win/win for building and congregation. He wrote My Father, My Daughter: Pilgrims on the Road to Santiago.

Talk of graves

By Roger Ferlo

I once produced a student performance of an old play of the crucifixion. It was part of the great York Mystery Cycle, a play that used to be performed every year on the feast of Corpus Christi in the streets surrounding York Minster in the late middle ages. Each play in the mystery cycle, ranging from Creation to Revelation, was assigned by tradition to a particular trade guild. The Crucifixion play was assigned, as I recall, appropriately enough, to the Pinners, stout Yorkshiremen whose trade was nail-making. It is a brilliant script, with the four pinners, dressed as Roman soldiers, carrying on a spirited, even comical dialogue in thick and racy Yorkshire dialect all the while they are nailing Jesus to the cross. The actor playing Jesus remains silent through almost the whole proceeding. The script sounds scandalous, characters cracking jokes as they go about their sordid business. (There is an odd, uncomfortable resonance with the way some of American soldiers at Abu Ghraib used their silent and abused prisoners as the butt of their obscene jokes.) The contrast between the profanity of the torturers and the solemn silence of Jesus was not as disgusting as the scene at Abu Ghraib, but nonetheless disturbing enough.

My students performed the play with no sets, under a naked light-bulb in a college basement. The walls were painted black, the only prop a broomstick that the student playing Jesus carried across his shoulders, his arms stretched out to each end. There were no seats for the audience; we gathered around the action in an uneasy circle, our silence matching the silence of the central figure. No one wanted to appear complicit in the action, but standing there watching it and not intervening seemed to imply we were somehow involved. We knew it was just a play after all, but it left us profoundly troubled. When the action ended, the Jesus figure was left standing there, his arms outstretched on the broomstick, bare feet on the floor, still maintaining silence. You have to understand that there was no attempt at realism here, no stage blood, no simulated groaning. Just the dignity of silence underscoring the enormity of the act. When the student actor finally broke his pose and walked out of the circle we had formed, we all saw the imprint of his sweaty feet on the floor, and for the longest time, not one of us moved or spoke a word. And when we finally did move, no one dared to enter the circle, or to step on the place where the sweat stains had by then disappeared.

I have another story about Jesus’ silence to share with you, this one far removed from a student workshop production performed in the safety of an Ivy League college.

Over ten years ago now a news article appeared in The New York Times that became for me a Good Friday Parable of the Unspeakable. It’s also a parable that forces us to explore—as this gospel does—what you might call the geography of evil. For years now the story has occupied a silent place in my skull, like a dispatch from Golgotha.

In spring of 1996 a reporter named Mike O’Connor gained access to a field outside the Bosnian town of Srbrenica. A lot has happened since 1996, but memory runs long in that part of the world. You still might remember the disastrous story of that sad town. During the ugly, bloody wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia, the UN had tried to protect Srbrenica as a “safe town,” a place where people could escape from the so-called ethnic cleansing by which Christian Serbs were trying to wipe out Muslim Bosnians from the area. The UN policy was a disaster. UN forces did almost nothing to stop the slaughter—they more or less looked on in horror, like bystanders at Golgotha. An international war crimes tribunal had determined that anywhere from 3,000 to 8,000 Muslim men had been driven from their homes and executed in this field by Christian Serb militia. The Times ran a photograph of the site. It looked terribly ordinary, nothing like a Golgotha. The land was flat, plain, with a small copse of trees visible in the background. But reports that had trickled in from survivors said that the landscape had recently been altered. You could see in the photograph that the ground was broken and rutted in spots, as if it had been dug up, moved and replaced by heavy equipment. O’Connor describes the scene with an eye for detail that is almost as vivid as Dante’s, who knew something about killing grounds:

Clinging to chunks of dirt, some piled in mounds three feet high, are pieces of sod and delicate yellow flowers growing at unnatural angles, suggesting that the dirt was broken and piled up after it was covered by new spring plants….Near the larger field was a pile of what first appeared to be rubbish, but tangled among the bits of garbage were strips of multicolored cloth, about three feet long. These matched the published descriptions of blindfolds that survivors say were put on the victims by the killing squads. Also in the pile were berets like those frequently used by older Muslim men. On one beret was a set of Muslim prayer beads, and near them was a cane nicely carved from a tree branch.

Clearly, there had been bodies buried there, and someone had ordered them moved—covering the evidence of this deepest crime by digging it up. The whole story has a Dantesque ring to it. Even the names of the commanders involved have an allegorical resonance. Here in the killing field, where hate-filled Christians betrayed and murdered terrorized Muslims, the spokesman for the war crimes investigation bore the name of Christian Chartier, a name that translates into English as Christian the Mapmaker, as if he had been assigned to map the geography of evil. And the colonel in command of the American forces who were patrolling the area was named, of all things, John Baptiste. As they say, you can’t make this kind of thing up. It would all be high comedy if it weren’t so horrific. The headline to the Times' story said it all: Disturbed Dirt in Bosnia Refuels Talk of Graves.

Why resurrect a story like this? Why refuel talk of graves, this close to Easter?

Recall the words of Jesus’ companion on the cross. Remember me. In a world with a minimum attention span, where one atrocity replaces the next in public memory with alarming regularity, it’s important to remember the anonymous and silent dead of Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda, or Darfur. It seems to me that if we are going to make sense out of Jesus’ silence, if we claim any right to play at the empty tomb on Easter morning, we need to remember his companions in suffering. We cannot in good faith re-encounter the silence of Jesus in these latter days without encountering the silence of the victims who came after him. You can hear in Jesus’ silence the silence of victims everywhere, victims of war and oppression and ethnic cleansing who are mostly nameless to us, silent skulls lined up in rows in a warehouse in Cambodia, silent bones in a mass grave in Bosnia or Rwanda or Darfur. Only their bones are at liberty to speak, and not just through DNA and other forensic tests. They bear mute testimony to the unspeakable. Their silence is Jesus’ silence, His silence theirs. Confronted with such pain, for us to keep silence would condemn us. Remember me. Remember me.

What are we waiting for?

By Jean Fitzpatrick

I didn't know Eve Carson, and yet when I read that she'd been killed with a handgun on a suburban street near the UNC Chapel Hill campus, I could hardly take my eyes off her photograph. A lovely young woman, blonde and smiling, she was a leader as well: student body president, a Morehead Scholar, Phi Beta Kappa, the list goes on. In her short life she had volunteered in Durham and Ecuador, Egypt and Ghana. Every life is infinitely precious. Eve, as Carson's high school principal said, "was one of the young women who could change the world."

The mother of a college student myself, I reached out to pray for Eve and her family and the students at UNC, hoping they will somehow find comfort, hardly able to imagine the pain they must be feeling. And then it occurred to me that less than a year has passed since the Virginia Tech shootings, when 32 students were killed. Just last month, at Northern Illinois University, a gunman shot five people. And only one day earlier, Lauren Burke, an Auburn University freshman, died of a single gunshot wound.

After the Virginia Tech shootings, the Rev. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, asked some important questions, and today they remain as urgent as ever. "My pastor's heart breaks for the families of those who died today," he said. "....Faith leaders have spoken up continually about the epidemic of gun violence in our country. Despite repeated calls from faith and community leaders to Congress and presidents nothing ever seems to get done to stem the tide. How many more will have to die before we say enough is enough? How many more senseless deaths will have to be counted before we enact meaningful firearms control in this country?"

What are we waiting for?

Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, sees couples and individuals in her private practice. A layreader in the Diocese of New York, she is the author of numerous books and articles on the spirituality of relationships, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child's Spiritual Growth and has a website at www.pastoralcounseling.net.

The Episcopal Public Policy Network

By Maureen Shea

Over 20,000 Episcopalians now belong to the Episcopal Public Policy Network! If you’re wondering just what the Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) is you may not be alone. The EPPN is the national grassroots network of Episcopalians who call and write their members of Congress and the Administration to advocate for the public policy positions of the Church. Recent alerts have asked EPPN members to write to Congress on Israeli/Palestinian peace, opening our doors to more Iraqi refugees, the Farm Bill and its importance to hunger issues at home and abroad, empowering women, helping orphans world wide, and stopping new nuclear weapons.

With the help of the EPPN, lay and clergy leaders, bishops, and yes, the Presiding Bishop, Office of Government Relations staff bring the positions of the Episcopal Church to our nation’s lawmakers. We were very pleased when the Presiding Bishop testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on climate change on June 7. The policy positions are established by the General Convention and Executive Council, and include the full range of social justice issues - Millennium Development Goals, international peace and justice, human rights, immigration, welfare, poverty, hunger, health care, violence, civil rights, the environment, racism, and issues involving women and children both at home and abroad.

The Episcopal Public Policy Network is coordinated by Mary Getz in the Church's Office of Government Relations (OGR). Also on staff are Alex Baumgarten, the international policy analyst, John Johnson, domestic policy analyst, Molly Keane, office administrator and immigration liaison, and I serve as director. The OGR office is located in the historic Methodist Building on Capitol Hill and we welcome visitors from around the country. OGR is part of the Peace and Justice Ministries cluster headquartered at the Episcopal Church Center in New York City.

The Government Relations staff meets directly with government leaders, works with media, recruits and mobilizes grassroots Episcopalians, builds relationships with Members of Congress and staff, and forms coalitions of both religious and secular interest groups to further the Church’s positions.

The need for the work of justice is best explained in these words of Martin Luther King, Jr. in a sermon at Riverside Church in New York:

On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

It is that need for restructuring that calls us to this public policy work. It is that need for restructuring that is the heart of the Millennium Development Goals – our church’s #1 mission priority for this triennium. As we celebrate our 20,000th member of the Episcopal Public Policy Network, we invite others to join in the important task of seeking peace with justice.

Maureen Shea is the Director of Government Relations for The Episcopal Church.

Confessing the sin of an unjust war

By George Clifford

Is confession necessary for healing and reconciliation? If not, then much of Christian theology is wrong and Anglican liturgy desperately needs revision.

However, if confession is the essential first step for healing and reconciliation, then the United States needs to confess that it was wrong to invade Iraq. In plain theological language, the invasion was sinful. Christian ethicists since St. Augustine have used Just War Theory to measure a war’s morality. Analyzing the Iraq invasion against that benchmark illuminates the invasion’s immorality.

First, Just War Theory requires protagonists to have a just cause. U. S. leaders advanced three justifications for a preemptive strike: Iraq had or would soon have weapons of mass destruction (WMD); Iraq supported al Qaeda terrorists; and Iraqis wanted help replacing their brutal dictator with democratic freedoms.

Events have proven that no just cause existed. New York Times correspondent Michael Gordon and retired general Bernard Trainor in their book Cobra II have carefully documented the doubtful intelligence and politically motivated analysis that produced the claim that Iraq had or would soon have WMD. Extensive searching for evidence of a viable WMD program in post-invasion Iraq discovered nothing. Iraqi government files revealed that initial contacts between Saddam and Osama bin Laden went nowhere, a foregone conclusion given that bin Laden is an Islamic extremist and Saddam was a secular Muslim. Pre-invasion Iraq met none of the well-established conditions required for democracy to thrive. A majority of Iraqis prefer an Islamic state to a secular democracy, an easily predicted preference since Shiites comprise 60 percent of Iraq’s population, and Islam does not distinguish between sacred and secular spheres of communal life.

Second, Just War Theory requires that legitimate authority wage war only when a reasonable chance of success exists. Leaders in the U. S. displayed an arrogant “we know best” attitude, confident they could solve any problem. This hubris quickly became a single-minded commitment, especially in the Bush administration, to finish what they perceived as the unfinished business of the first Gulf War. Officials regarded regime change as the only solution to Saddam Hussein’s brutality, his incessant saber rattling, and the regional instability he caused. They desired international advice, authority, and assistance only if supportive of U. S. policies.

A study conducted by the Johns Hopkins University estimated that approximately 650,000 more Iraqis have died since the invasion than if it had not occurred. More than 3400 members of the US armed forces and hundreds of coalition contractor employees have also died in Iraq. The financial cost of US operations in Iraq now exceeds $300 billion ($2 billion per week). Those deaths and monies have not reduced the terrorist threat or brought peace. Instead, al Qaeda terrorists seized the opportunity in the invasion’s ill-planned aftermath to ignite a self-sustaining spiral of increasing sectarian violence in Iraq. Consequently, chaos now reigns in Iraq, Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds are further polarized, animosity towards the West has dramatically increased, and Middle East stability is more elusive than ever. Iraq’s swift, certain, and reasonably easy defeat by U. K. and U. S. forces cannot mask the fact that the long term prognosis according to knowledgeable experts for the invasion’s aftermath was always poor, a prognosis exacerbated by the lack of widespread international support.

Finally, Just War Theory requires that nations fight with the intent of establishing peace. Some contend that the primary reason for the Iraq invasion was to secure access to Iraq’s petroleum. These critics observe that the U. S. has not intervened in nations ravaged by genocide that lack substantial petroleum reserves. Ironically, U. S. government figures show that Iraq today produces less oil than prior to the invasion, a production level insufficient to pay, contrary to pre-invasion anticipations, for rebuilding of Iraq or the cost of the military occupation.

Christianity teaches that those who make wrong choices should acknowledge – confess – their mistake. That holds for nations, not just individuals. Jesus’ message has profound social and political aspects. Similarly, the Old Testament prophets repeatedly spoke God's word of judgment to nations, both to the Jewish nation and to its pagan neighbors.

President Bush publicly identifies himself as a Christian. He should therefore appreciate confession as a necessary first step in setting a wrong right. Christian citizens of secular democracies appropriately encourage their leaders to act courageously in taking responsibility for national mistakes. In response to efforts by Christians and others, U. S. leaders have taken steps towards national healing and reconciliation by apologizing for slavery and the detention of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps during World War II.

Arguing that the U. S. publicly acknowledges the immorality of invading Iraq does not imply a lack of support for personnel in their armed forces. Armed forces in a democratic society implement policy not make it. Personnel in Iraq need and deserve our prayers, our ongoing concern for their families at home, assistance in reintegrating into society when they return, and our bold, vigorous advocacy of moral policies that have a reasonable chance of success.

Defeating the Iraqi insurgency can succeed only by winning the hearts and minds of the people, an expensive lesson learned from multiple failures elsewhere. The current occupation alienates Iraqis and consequently represents a failing policy. Even as can happen in relations between individuals, the U. S. confessing its sin has the potential to introduce a helpful and healthy humility and honesty into their relationships with Middle Eastern nations. Those nations, Islamic and Jewish, share common teachings with Christianity: only God is without sin; sin results from failing to submit to God; sin causes brokenness; healing and reconciliation can only begin with confession. Humility and honesty provide an essential foundation for trust, allowing reconciliation and healing to develop.

If the gospel message is true, then healing and reconciliation in Iraq can begin only with the necessary first step of confession. Defeat and confessing to sin are not synonymous by any stretch of the imagination. Iraqi insurgents and al Qaeda terrorists have not defeated the U. S. President Bush clearly has the resolve to continue his current policies for the remainder of his tenure in office. The U. S. has the resources to continue occupying Iraq indefinitely. However, as evidenced by the results of the ongoing troop surge, pursuing an immoral, failed policy to avoid creating any false appearance of defeat is at best foolish and at worst criminal.

Truly wise leaders will recognize that confession necessarily precedes any possibility for healing and reconciliation in Iraq. They will dare to name the invasion of Iraq as sin and will admit their nation’s hubris. With humility and honesty, these leaders can then responsively and supportively dialogue with Iraq’s people, beginning the journey towards healing and reconciliation.

The Rev. George Clifford of the diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years, with tours at sea, with the Marine Corps, on the staff of the Chief of Chaplains, on exchange with the Royal Navy in London, as the senior Protestant chaplain at the Naval Academy, and as the senior chaplain at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Healthcare for children: a moral imperative

By George Clifford

Last week I attended a meeting in Raleigh where those gathered brainstormed about ways to provide healthcare coverage to all North Carolina children. About 87,000 North Carolina children currently lack healthcare coverage. (Nationally, 8.7 million children lack healthcare coverage.) Children without healthcare coverage receive less medical attention, suffer, in comparison to children with healthcare coverage, from a greater number of serious health problems that early intervention could have averted, and cost taxpayers more.

A member of the NC State House of Representatives, Verla Insko, has sponsored a bill in the current legislative session to provide subsidized coverage to parents of the 38,000 uncovered children when family income falls between 200% and 300% of the federal poverty guideline. Children in families below the 200% level are already eligible for healthcare coverage through Medicaid and North Carolina Health Choice.

Someone in the brainstorming session inquired which would cost taxpayers the least, the state directly funding healthcare for all children whose family income is less than 300% of the federal poverty guideline or administering the subsidy program and then directly paying for the approximately 50% of the children – some 19,000 – whose parents would choose to not participate in the program. Surprisingly, the least expensive option is the former, having the state directly provide healthcare for all children from families whose incomes fall between 200% and 300% of the federal poverty guideline.

Then one of the state’s foremost healthcare advocates spoke. He said that option made sense and would benefit taxpayers. However, the option was a political non-starter. For a North Carolina family of four, 300% of the federal poverty guideline is over $40,000 per year. The legislature, declared this experienced and dedicated advocate of healthcare for all, would never adopt a program of free care for children in families of four with an income of $40,000. The consensus among those present was that the advocate was correct.

As I traveled home after the meeting, I thought about that discussion from a gospel perspective. First, I remembered Jesus instructing his disciples to “Let the children come to me.” Surely, Jesus loves children. Our children, all children, are precious. The Episcopal Church rightly takes steps, such as background checks and ensuring adequate supervision, to guarantee the safety of children while they are at church or involved in church programs.

Second, Jesus healed the sick. Theologians, biblical scholars, and Christians debate how Jesus healed. Yet even the most radical scholars acknowledge that Jesus healed the sick. Since Jesus loved the children and healed the sick, then surely we who are Christ's feet, hands, and voice can do nothing less.

Third, I remembered Jesus’ saying “You cannot serve God and wealth.” I am amazed that making healthcare coverage free for all North Carolina children whose family income falls between 200% and 300% of the federal poverty guideline saves the taxpayers money but is nevertheless politically a non-starter. The only explanation of that anomaly which makes sense to me is that some legislators and voters love wealth more than they love God. Idolatry has so warped their judgment that the idea of paying for children’s healthcare without requiring parental contributions is unacceptable even when to the taxpayers’ financial advantage. In other words, the legislature does not want to create the appearance of these children getting a free ride. I cannot believe that many families would voluntarily limit their income to 300% of the federal poverty guideline in order to obtain free healthcare coverage for their children.

My reflections on those three points caused me to rethink what I as a Christian believe are government’s proper functions. Libertarians argue that the best government is the government that does the bare minimum. Libertarianism does not cohere well with Christianity. Christianity teaches that God created humans to live in community with one another; our concept of the Triune God models that community for us. At the other end of the spectrum, some communitarians contend that government should manage most aspects of life. Extreme communitarians fail to take sin and evil seriously; primitive Christianity’s early experiment with socialism, recorded in the book of Acts, teaches the need to balance community with individual initiative.

Like the Christian tradition’s mainstream, I found my thoughts gravitating toward a philosophy of government that falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between extreme libertarianism and communitarianism. Government is the clear provider of choice for certain services, such as national defense, law enforcement, fire protection, and most transportation infrastructure. We may not enjoy paying taxes but know that funding those basic services is important. Conversely, the majority of agricultural, industrial, and commercial activities function more effectively and efficiently when shaped by market forces within broad legal parameters.

Healthcare, it seems to me, falls into an ambiguous middle ground, partly an individual and partly a communal responsibility. Individuals who have to pay something for their healthcare coverage have an added incentive to adopt healthy lifestyles (as if anyone should need an added incentive!). Healthcare providers exercise more initiative, creativity, and responsibility within a system that allows some market forces to function. Conversely, all people, especially children, should have equal access to healthcare.

What does any of this – talk of healthcare and one’s philosophy of government – have to do with Easter? After thirty plus years of ministry, hearing hundreds of sermons and reading thousands of pages of Christian materials, I well understand why Karl Marx wrote that religion is the opiate of the masses. Too often, Christianity focuses on matters ethereal rather than earthy. Christianity offers the watery gruel of stoic counsel, grin and bear your problems, instead of the living water of real help. Jesus the healer becomes Jesus who promises of paradise.

The gospel reading for the fifth Sunday of Easter seeks to plant our feet firmly back on the ground. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) The reading on the sixth Sunday of Easter reinforces that message. Jesus’ commands those who love him to follow his teachings (John 14:23). The Church does not need to propose a panacea for the nation’s healthcare woes. Living in London for two years and multiple conversations with people on both sides of the Atlantic leave me firmly convinced that no nation has yet implemented anything near an optimal system for ensuring everyone receives quality healthcare. What we as the Christian Church can do, must do, is insist that our politicians keep working at the problem and that in the interim, as a minimum, every child has guaranteed healthcare coverage.

The Episcopal Church’s General Convention adopted resolutions in 1991 (A099) and 1994 (A057) calling for universal access to quality healthcare coverage. This Eastertide as numerous states begin to address the healthcare system’s failure to provide quality care for all Episcopalians would do well to restore this topic to their primary agenda and to spend less time in futile efforts to preserve church unity.

The Rev. George Clifford served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years, with tours at sea, with the Marine Corps, on the staff of the Chief of Chaplains and as the senior Protestant chaplain at the U. S. Naval Academy.

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Health care redux

By Marshall Scott

I suppose I could say that everything old is new again. The topic of health care for all Americans has come back into the political arena. All the candidates for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008 have developed plans. We have new plans in place or proposed in Maine, Massachusetts, California, and Pennsylvania. As one who remembers well the efforts in the first years of the Clinton Administration, I have been interested to see this all come back again. As a hospital chaplain, it is a matter of great professional interest.

Episcopalians should know this is a subject on which the General Convention has spoken a number of times. In fact the General Convention had been speaking on health care for all as far back as 1988. That 69th General Convention passed Resolution 1988-D108, titled, “Advocate for Appropriate Health Care for All Who Are Ill”:

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That this 69th General Convention direct the Presiding Bishop and the Executive Council, in light of the strains upon the health care system exerted by the AIDS Epidemic, to direct the Washington D.C. office of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America to adopt a strategy to advocate for all persons suffering from illness by creating appropriate levels of cost-effective health care, for example, hospices and alternative health care facilities.

This resolution was followed at the 70th General Convention in 1991 by two resolutions, A010, “Advocate Legislation for Comprehensive Health Care;” and A099, “Call for a System of Universal Access to Health Care.” Both called for universal health care as a basic right, the former calling for advocacy from agencies of the Episcopal Church, and the latter for action in the federal government. (A similar resolution, C032, “Health Care for All Americans,” passed the House of Bishops in the most recent General Convention, but was not considered by the House of Deputies due to time constraints.)

The most complete statement on the topic, however, was passed at the 71st General Convention in 1994. That resolution was A057, “Adopt Church Principles on Access to Health Care:”

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That this 71st General Convention of the Episcopal Church adopt the following four principles as the position of the Episcopal Church regarding health care:

That universal access to quality, cost effective, health care services be considered necessary for everyone in the population.

That "quality health care" be defined so as to include programs in preventive medicine, where wellness is the first priority.

That "quality health care" include interdisciplinary and interprofessional components to insure the care of the whole person--physiological, spiritual, psychological, social.

That "quality health care" include the balanced distribution of resources so that no region of the country is underserved.

The most interesting aspect of these principles is their inclusion under the definition of “quality health care.” In the early 1990’s we were first seeing the spreading within the health care industry of principles of performance improvement and quality management (about which I have also written). The understanding of “quality health care” in the quality management environment has been based on clinical and organizational outcomes. In 1994-A057 we as the Episcopal Church asserted that to provide “quality health care” also required certain social justice outcomes. For us, I believe these outcomes would be considered essential if we were to “seek and service Christ in all persons, loving [our] neighbor as [ourselves],” and to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” (From the Baptismal Covenant, Book of Common Prayer, page 305).

It remains to be seen whether the various state experiments or proposed plans will produce quality health care, either in the sense of better clinical outcomes, or in the sense of fulfilling the social outcomes that we as the Episcopal Church would seek. It will be, I think, worth the effort. But however it turns out, we have made clear in actions of General Convention our own goals and standards: to provide health care for all persons, care for whole persons from cradle to grave. This will clearly be an issue in the next elections, both at state and national levels. Think what it might mean if we all made clear to those we support that we also support these statements of the Church in General Convention.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. He blogs at Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

The on-going hypocrisy of GetReligion

Have a look at this entry over on GetReligion. It is a critique of The Washington Post's recent coverage of a press conference held by the Institute for Religion and Democracy.

The IRD receives significant contributions from California billionaire Howard "Stony" Ahmanson, and Ahmanson's wife, Roberta, sits on the IRD's board. Ahmanson also funds GetReligion.

This obvious conflict of interest is not mentioned in the posting. It is never mentioned in GetReligion's coverage of mainline Protestant churches, despite the fact that Ahmanson contributes heavily to the IRD's efforts to destabilize those churches.

This particular article is written by the same writer who carelessly smeared Bishops Katharine Jefferts Schori and Gene Robinson in a previous piece.

Mollie Ziegler, your conscience is calling. It misses you.

Advancing my agenda

I have not accomplished as much as I had hoped during the Democrats first 100 hours in power. Still, two loads of laundry is two loads of laundry.

A threat to traditional values

The New York Times reports

"In a letter sent to hundreds of voters this month, Representative Virgil H. Goode Jr., Republican of Virginia, warned that the recent election of the first Muslim to Congress posed a serious threat to the nation’s traditional values.

Mr. Goode was referring to Keith Ellison, the Minnesota Democrat and criminal defense lawyer who converted to Islam as a college student and was elected to the House in November. Mr. Ellison’s plan to use the Koran during his private swearing-in ceremony in January had outraged some Virginia voters, prompting Mr. Goode to issue a written response to them, a spokesman for Mr. Goode said."

It is Mr. Goode who is the real threat to America's traditional values, one of which is freedom of religion.

Here are the letter and related articles.

Father Calciu, RIP

Yesterday's Washington Post brought news that the Rev. Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa had died at age 80. Father Calciu was a Romanian Orthodox priest, and a staunch anti-communist, who endured 21 years in prison, but was allowed to immigrate to the United States in 1985. When Romania rose up against Communism four years later, the Post sent me to Bailey's Cross Roads, in suburban Virginia, to interview him. To read that piece, clilck on "continue reading."

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First Freedom

Consider signing this petition at firstfreedomfirst.org. It is part of a national public education campaign being undertaken by The Interfaith Alliance Foundation and Americans United for the Separation of Church & State to emphasize the importance of religious freedom to policy makers and the media.
It reads in part:

We, the undersigned, call upon elected and appointed officials to join us in reaffirming America's religious freedom by demonstrating a commitment to the following:

Every American should have the right to make personal decisions -- about family life, reproductive health, end of life care and other matters of personal conscience.
American tax dollars should not go to charities that discriminate in hiring based on religious belief or that promote a particular religious faith as a requirement for receiving services.
Political candidates should not be endorsed or opposed by houses of worship.
Public schools should teach with academic integrity and without the promotion of religious preference or belief.
Decisions about scientific and health policies should be based on the best available scientific data, not on religious doctrine.

An interview with Rowan Williams on the crisis in the Middle East

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, was interviewed this morning on BBC's Radio 4 by Caroline Quinn.

An excerpt:

I think all states have a right to defend themselves and I don't think anyone disputes the state of Israel's right to exist and therefore the state of Israel's right to defend itself. But the question is, morally, whether that right of self-defence allows any and every method and, without for any moment suggesting that there's a sort of equivalence between terrorist activity and the activity of a legitimate state, the question is; what can a state morally do without subverting its own cause in self defence? That's the question which I think people are pressing at the moment in Israel.

Click below to read the transcript.

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The IRD is at it again

Those rascals at the Institute on Religion and Democracy are at it again. Brian Kaylor at "For God's Sake, Shut Up" has two posts on their recent activities, and Matt Thompson of Political Spaghetti has one. To learn more about he IRD, read our series, Following the Money.

Progress against homelessness

The New York Times carries the first upbeat story about the battle against homelessness that I have read in a long time.

It reads in part:

"In this campaign, promoted by a little-known office of the Bush administration, 219 cities, at last count, have started ambitious 10-year plans to end chronic homelessness.

The cities include New York, which is stepping up efforts to house the estimated nearly 4,000 people huddling on sidewalks or sleeping in parks, and Henderson, N.C., population 17,000, which recently counted 91 homeless people, 14 of them chronic cases.

Many of the early starters are reporting turnarounds. In Philadelphia, street dwellers have declined 60 percent over five years. In San Francisco, the number of the chronic homeless is down 28 percent in two years, in Dallas 26 percent and in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., 15 percent."

Part of the credit, those interviewed said, "goes to Philip F. Mangano, a Bush appointee who has spent five years visiting every mayor and governor he can, brandishing successful examples, cost-benefit studies and his own messianic fervor along with modest amounts of federal money."

At various points during the 1980s, I spent time reporting on homelessness, though never enough to come up with a comprehensive sense of why it remained such a persistent problem. To simplify my own experience: some of the people I interviewed were homeless in the most literal sense of that word. They just didn't have a home at the moment. But when they got one, they'd probably be able to pick up their lives and go on. I met a lot of people like this in shelters when I was a reporter in Syracuse.

Then there were people who were homeless, but for whom that was among the least of a long list of problems. Once in the late '80s I worked on a story for The Washington Post that involved talking to people who slept on the streets about their plans for hte coming winter. The great majority of these folks had problems that made it impossible for them to keep a home or a job. Many needed treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, but just as many were mentally ill and needed (in this lay man's diagnosis) extensive psychiatric care. The de-institutionalization of mental patients in the late 1970s has been a disaster--maybe because the community health clinics that advocates of deinstitutionalization pinned their hopes on never materialized. Maybe because the plan was wildly naive from the start. Then again, institutionalization was pretty much a disaster, too.

A population that used to suffer privately now suffers publicly. Until we come up with some coherent ideas about how to help them, the problem of homelessness won't go away.

Against Loving (v. Virginia)

President Bush is supporting a constitutional amendment against gay marriage. Today in his radio address he said decisions about the nature of marriage should be decided by voters and not by the courts.

This got me thinking about the case of Loving v. Virginia , decided in 1967, in which the U. S. Supreme Court struck down a Virginia law criminalizing interracial marriage, and with it the laws of 15 other states which still had such laws (Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.) So, following the President's logic, I guess we are going to need a massive do-over.

By coincidence, I happened to know a little bit about the origins of some of the laws that Loving overturned. Sixteen years ago, while working on a book at Michael Jordan, I was exploring the cultural impact of previous Africa-American sports stars. Jack Johnson was my starting point. His emergence as the first black heavyweight champion inspired can only be described as a crisis of white masculinity.

"The white man must be saved," wrote no less a live-r of the rugged life than author Jack London in 1909. This proclamation came as Johnson, who had defended his title five times, was preparing to meet the Great White Hope, Jim Jeffries. Johnson knocked Jeffries in the 15th round of their fight in Reno, and racially-motivated violence erupted around the country. Nine governors banned the fight film from their state. A Baltimore minister declared that Johnson's victory made it unsafe for white women to walk the streets. A popular comic book captured the sexual roots of this paranoia: "Black Ape Splitting the White Princess."

In this climate, in 1912, Rep. Seaborn Roddenberry of Georgia introduced a constitutional amendment banning interracial marriages. In supporting his amendment he said: "Intermarriage between whites and blacks is repulsive and averse to every sentiment of pure American spirit. It is abhorrent and repugnant. It is subversive to social peace. It is destructive of moral supremacy, and ultimately this slavery to black beasts will bring this nation to a fatal conflict."

The amendment failed. But influenced by Rodddenberry, ten states introduced similar laws in 1913. Eventually thirty states had laws banning interracial marriage.

Lest we see these as vestiges of a the distant past, here is a Virginia judge Leon Bazile defending his state’s miscegenation law in passing sentence on the Lovings in 1965: Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

In this example, we move from Roddenberry’s overt racism to Bazile’s bizarre appeal to natural theology. This is a common trajectory. The initial panic that inspires prejudice is too ugly a thing to live long in daylight. So it gets baptized, theologized. The case gets made from Scripture. (Read the latest book by the great evangelical historian Mark Noll to see how this happened in the case of slavery.) Eventually, you can support the policies inspired by the original prejudice while denying any desire beyond conforming your will to that of God.

We've seen this trick pulled so many times that you would think it would lose its effectiveness. But apparently not.

Gay rights: bad. Global warming: not our fault

Sebastian Mallaby of The Washington Post has written a column today on Al Gore's new movie about global warming. It says in part:

"Republican dishonesty reaches its extreme on the issue of global warming. Yes, climate science is complex, and nobody can forecast the earth's temperature with complete confidence. But the fact that scientists don't know everything isn't a license to ignore what they do know: that the earth is warming, glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising at an accelerating pace -- and that these changes are driven at least partly by fossil-fuel consumption. The U.S. National Academies have confirmed this; their foreign counterparts have confirmed this; and so has the world's top authority on the subject, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change . None of this is controversial.

"Except among Republicans. Candidate Bush acknowledged that climate change was a problem; once elected he denied it; then he denied the denial but refused to let his administration do anything about climate. Lately he has talked about ridding the nation of its oil addiction, but that's because oil finances Arab extremism. Bush has been silent on the link between oil and global warming."

I mention this not because I am a crusading environmentalist. (It is on my list, but not on the first page.) But because it gives me a chance to point out something that won't be news to people who have read our series "Following the money: Donors and activists on the Anglican right." One of the major financial backers of the disinformation campaign on global warming is Howard F. Ahmanson, Jr., a major backer of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, the American Anglican Council and various British groups working to expel the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion for ordaining an openly gay bishop and allow its priests to bless same-sex relationships.

Fight cuts in anti-poverty funding

Have a look at this letter from the Episcopal Public Polcy Network, and if it moves you to take action, consider becoming a member.

Dear Jim,

The US international affairs budget line funds critical poverty-focused development assistance including critical programs such as basic education, HIV/AIDS relief, emergency-food assistance and long term economic-development initiatives like micro-credit.

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee announced that it plans to slash the President’s already insufficient budget request for international affairs by more than 10 percent. We need your help to make sure the Senate doesn’t cut this crucial budget as well.

A 10% cut would mean deep reductions in poverty-focused development assistance and life-saving programs. These programs are vital if the world is to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.

It’s not too late to make a difference. The Senate is still considering its allocations for international affairs. A bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Sens. Mike DeWine (R-OH), Rick Santorum (R-PA), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is working to insure that support for poverty-focused development assistance is maintained at least at the level proposed in President Bush’s budget. Please e-mail your Senators today and urge them to hold the line on funding for poverty-related development assistance.

EPPN
110 Maryland Ave., N.E. #309, Washington, D.C. 20002
1-800-228-0515, (202) 547-7300,
On the Web: www.episcopalchurch.org/eppn
Email: eppn@episcopalchurch.org

An injection of prayer

This Washington Post headline sure conjures up an odd image:
House Injects Prayer Into Defense Bill
The story concerns language in a defense authorization bill that was amended to include language that would allow chaplains to use Jesus' name prayers offered at public military ceremonies.

"Focus on the Family, the Christian Coalition and other evangelical Christian groups have lobbied vigorously against the Air Force and Navy rules, urging President Bush to issue an executive order guaranteeing the right of chaplains to pray in the name of Jesus under any circumstances. Because the White House has not acted, sympathetic members of Congress stepped in.

"We felt there needed to be a clarification" of the rules "because there is political correctness creeping into the chaplains corps," said Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.). "I don't understand anyone being opposed to a chaplain having the freedom to pray to God in the way his conscience calls him to pray."

Among the provision's opponents is the chief of Navy chaplains, Rear Adm. Louis V. Iasiello, a Roman Catholic priest.

"The language ignores and negates the primary duties of the chaplain to support the religious needs of the entire crew" and "will, in the end, marginalize chaplains and degrade their use and effectiveness," Iasiello wrote in a letter to a committee member."

The National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces and the Anti-Defamation League don't care for the language either.

The Diocese of Washington is home to the National Cathedral, which functions both as an Episcopal Church and what its charter refers to as a "great church for national purposes," we deal with the issue of public prayer in interfaith settings on a fairly regular basis. It can be done well, but it can't be done easily. The three monotheistic faiths have a common ancestor (Abraham), and were born in the same part of the world, so there is some language available that e is inclusive (for lack of a better word) without being so generic, as to render the prayer meaningless. But when you move beyond monotheism to other faith traditions, the sledding gets tougher, and the destination becomes increasingly ambiguous.

So I have some sympathy with people who say "If I can't name my God in my prayer, it isn't worth praying." But that doesn't lead me to argue for faith specific public prayer--which I think is unconstitutional. Rather, it leads me to ask whether it is worth offering communal prayer in multi-faith settings.

Justice for immigrants

From Episcopal News Service

[ENS] On April 10th, the Mall in Washington, DC will be the scene of a major rally urging the Senate to adhere to the principles embodied in the draft immigration reform bill set forth by the Judiciary Committee. Rallies in cities across the United States, coinciding with what is expected to be a push this week for final Senate action, continue to express support for key elements of the bill.

The bill before the Senate provides for a guest workers' program that anticipates permanent residence and citizenship for a considerably expanded number of visas for workers, along with a process for allowing some number of those in now in the country without status to seek permanent residence and citizenship. These were two controversial pieces of the Senate bill that advocates hope will survive the Senate debate and ultimately action by the entire Congress.

Episcopal Migration Ministries and the Church's Office of Government Relations have been contacting church leaders and church networks around the country, urging participation in the April 10th event either in Washington or in cities around the country where they have a presence.

Richard Parkins, EMM director, noted that "advocacy in favor of a balance immigration bill which acknowledges the rights of migrants workers including a pathway to citizenship has registered with many legislators on both sides of the aisle. The voices of faith communities have been vital to bringing the immigration debate to a point where there is a good chance of a just and fair bill emerging. Continuing to show support for such legislation is critically important as the process moves forward this week."

The bill offered by the chair of the Judiciary Committee, Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, faces amendments from those who want legislation that reflects an earlier House bill, which was characterized by an enforcement-only approach.

"A political philosophy masquerading as gospel"

The Rev Michael Livingston, president of the National Council of Christian Churches gave a bracing address to the NCCC's Communications Commission this week. Here are two nuggets that caught my eye:

"Mainline Protestant and Orthodox churches have been pounded into irrelevancy by the media machine of a false religion; a political philosophy masquerading as gospel; an economic principle wrapped in religious rhetoric and painted red, white and blue. "

"Why do we know so much about Pat Robertson and so little about Mark Hanson (Frank Griswold's Lutheran counterpart)? He’s thoughtful, articulate, personable, (photogenic); he’s a great church leader with a compelling personal story. Isn’t what the Lutherans are doing in the world at least as worthy of public exposure as what Pat thinks about Islam? That’s a rhetorical question. What kind of news information outfit reports the one and not the other? Have we no ability to influence this insanity?"

Cry Babies for Christ

Turns out that even though the President of the United States is an evangelical Christian, and the religious right exerts unprecedented influence on American politics, conservative Christians are actually being persecuted. So said a gathering of some of the most comfortable human beings on the face of the planet this week in Washington. The Washington Post has the story.

It is ironic that conservatives, who once made their political bread and butter by charging liberals with promoting a class of victims, now make their bread and butter the same way. At some point, shouldn't the rest of us tell these power mongers to call themselves something other than Christians? They aren't the only ones who have to use that name, and they are devaluing its currency.

When Would Jesus Bolt?

The invaluable Amy Sullivan has a piece in the current issue of the almost equally invaluable Washington Monthly about "the advance guard of evangelicals leaving the GOP." It focuses on the battle over an elective course in Bible studies in Alabama's public high schools. The twist is that the bill was sponsored by Democrats and opposed by Republicans.

Sullivan explains:

The holy skirmish down in Alabama, with its “GOP blocks votes on Bible class bill” headlines, may seem like just a one-time, up-is-down, oddity. But it's really the frontline of a larger war to keep Democrats from appealing to more moderate evangelical voters. American politics is so closely divided that if a political party peels off a few percentage points of a single big constituency, it can change the entire electoral map. ....

Democrats could ... poach a decisive percentage of the GOP's evangelical base. In the last election, evangelicals made up 26 percent of the electorate, and 78 percent of them voted for Bush. That sounds like a fairly inviolate bloc. And, indeed, the conservative evangelicals for whom abortion and gay marriage are the deciding issues are unlikely to ever leave the Republican Party. But a substantial minority of evangelical voters—41 percent, according to a 2004 survey by political scientist John Green at the University of Akron—are more moderate on a host of issues ranging from the environment to public education to support for government spending on anti-poverty programs. Broadly speaking, these are the suburban, two-working-parents, kids-in-public-school, recycle-the-newspapers evangelicals. They may be pro-life, but it's in a Catholic, “seamless garment of life” kind of way. These moderates have largely remained in the Republican coalition because of its faith-friendly image. A targeted effort by the Democratic Party to appeal to them could produce victories in the short term: To win the 2004 presidential election, John Kerry needed just 59,300 additional votes in Ohio—that's four percent of the total evangelical vote in the state, or approximately 10 percent of Ohio's moderate evangelical voters. And if the Democratic Party changed its reputation on religion, the result could alter the electoral map in a more significant and permanent way.

Episcopal bishops oppose US House of Representatives' immigration reform bill

The bill isn't mentioned by name, but that is the gist of what follows:

Episcopal News Service
Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Care for undocumented immigrants affirmed; Bishops oppose legislation that would make humanitarian acts unlawful

[ENS, Hendersonville, N.C.] The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church on March 22 adopted a resolution "opposing legislation making humanitarian acts unlawful" regarding care and aid extended to "undocumented immigrants."

The full text of the resolution -- proposed by Bishops of Dioceses on the Mexican Border and moved by Bishop Kirk Smith of Arizona -- follows.

Opposing legislation making humanitarian acts unlawful

RESOLVED, that the House of Bishops, meeting at Kanuga, March 17-22, 2006, reaffirming the action of Executive Council, meeting in Philadelphia, March 6-9, 2006, declares its strong opposition to any legislation that would make it unlawful for faith-based or humanitarian organizations to act to relieve the suffering of undocumented immigrants in response to the Gospel mandate to serve the least among us and our Baptismal covenant to seek and serve Christ in all persons;

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the House of Bishops calls upon the people of the Episcopal Church to act on their Baptismal covenant without regard to such unjust legislation.

EXPLANATION: The Episcopal Church has a long tradition of advocating for the just and humane treatment of immigrants and refugees. In the current immigration debate, there is concern that attempts to change the U.S. immigration system could infringe upon the rights and obligations of religious and humanitarian organizations to extend support and assistance to those who come to them for help. The Gospel mandate to serve the least among us and the Baptismal covenant of the Church to seek and serve Christ in all persons are imperatives that call us to resist legislation that would make unlawful deeds of compassion done in the name of our faith. The Episcopal Church, therefore, identifies with expressions of other faith-based bodied who have expressed opposition to proposed legislation that would inhibit the ability of churches, their members and agencies to relieve the suffering of those whom they are called to serve.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles, who has said that his diocese will disobey the House immigration bill if it becomes law, defends his position in The New York Times.

Stop HR 4437

Our diocese is gearing up to oppose House Bill 4437, the odious immigration reform bill that has passed the House and now moves to the Senate. We are encouraging people to attend an interfaith prayer service and rally in oppostion to the bill on Tuesday, March 7 at 4 p. m. on the West Lawn of the Capitol. But we didn't have in mind anything as audacious as what Cardinal Roger Mahoney, the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Los Angeles is advocating.

Here is a piece of the lead editorial in today's New York Times :

"It has been a long time since this country heard a call to organized lawbreaking on this big a scale. Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the nation's largest, urged parishioners on Ash Wednesday to devote the 40 days of Lent to fasting, prayer and reflection on the need for humane reform of immigration laws. If current efforts in Congress make it a felony to shield or offer support to illegal immigrants, Cardinal Mahony said, he will instruct his priests — and faithful lay Catholics — to defy the law.

The cardinal's focus of concern is H.R. 4437, a bill sponsored by James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin and Peter King of New York. This grab bag legislation, which was recently passed by the House, would expand the definition of "alien smuggling" in a way that could theoretically include working in a soup kitchen, driving a friend to a bus stop or caring for a neighbor's baby. Similar language appears in legislation being considered by the Senate this week.

The enormous influx of illegal immigrants and the lack of a coherent federal policy to handle it have prompted a jumble of responses by state and local governments, stirred the passions of the nativist fringe, and reinforced anxieties since 9/11. Cardinal Mahony's defiance adds a moral dimension to what has largely been a debate about politics and economics. 'As his disciples, we are called to attend to the last, littlest, lowest and least in society and in the church,' he said."

My baseball cap is off to the Cardinal. I hoped other church leaders will follow his lead.

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