The United States Catholic Bishop’s Conference is currently in the midst of celebrating its fourth annual “Fortnight For Freedom.” Running between June 21 and the holiday that commemorates the United States’ violently-achieved independence from Great Britain, these two weeks of prayer and coordinated action protest perceived threats to religious freedom purportedly posed primarily by gay rights and federally subsidized health insurance plans that cover contraception.
If a hotel owner being sued for refusing to rent a room to a same-sex couple qualifies as an abominable attack on human freedom, what does four decades of racist hyper-incarceration of black women and men represent? (Good thing the caretaker of that inn in Bethlehem was not a believer in traditional marriage as the proprietors of that inn in Vermont were.)
I am not really sure how to respond to last night’s massacre of nine people at the historic Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina except with grief.
I can not imagine what an adequate white Catholic response to four hundred years of unending terror against black women, children, and men could possibly look like.
But I do know how it should begin.
Any white Catholic response to the Charleston massacre must begin by lamenting the fact that while Charleston Emanuel AME was advocating for abolition, the white Catholic bishops of South Carolina held black slaves as their personal property.
While right wing Christians and atheist liberals may disagree on what makes the United States great, many of them agree that Islamic “extremism” threatens this greatness.
Even before the vicious Charlie Hebdo massacre, members of these groups shared a common preoccupation with what they perceive as the Muslim ban on drawing images of the Prophet Muhammad. (As with pretty much everything in every religion, Muslims disagree on whether or not pictorial representations of the Prophet Muhammad even qualify as un-Islamic.) This issue galvanizes members of both groups for different reasons. To certain of those on the left, this taboo seemingly epitomizes the irrationality and unenlightened illiberality of all religion. To those on the Christian right, it seemingly evidences the superiority of Christianity and the importance of fortifying “Christian America” from Islamic invasion. Contrasting liberal tolerance and/or Christian supremacy with the violent irrationality of Islam, these groups cite occasions when Muslims rioted, assaulted, murdered, or sought to punish desecraters with the force of law.
Human beings are storytellers. We are formed by stories, and stories are always constructed but only sometimes true. In storytelling, framing matters: we must decide where to begin the story, from whose perspective to tell it, which details to include and which to omit. The way we choose to tell a story shapes the sense we make. Whole worlds rise and fall on the backs of stories.
White supremacy survives in part by stories. White people recite a set of shared storylines, accented by common narrative tropes, animated by the same cast of characters. White people do not need to know each other to know each other’s stories. We know white people by the stories they tell.
In recent weeks, many white people have relied on these stories to make sense of and defend themselves against the events in Ferguson and New York. Above all, these stories of white supremacy allow white people to remain undisturbed and unmoved, both physically and spiritually. They do not want to relinquish their racially segregated neighborhoods or the racialized power these spaces provide them; they do not want to re-consider their belief in the fundamental goodness and innocence of either their race or the country to which they pledge allegiance. They know they are good; their stories tell them so.
We at WIT get a lot of trolls.
There’s just something about a group of young women talking about God that really seems to get people all riled up.
Come, stroll with me down Troll Lane. There was the person who said, “You give good reason s why women need to be silent.” I can recall the lovely gentleman who told us, “you should not be called Wit you should be called witch women in theology creating Heresy.” There was the man who proclaimed us “under mortal sin, clearly” and the woman who called us “fringe wackos.” I could go on but I think you get the picture.
I must admit that being subjected to hateful, vitriolic, and occasionally un-hinged comments can get to me. I have felt tempted to slur back–anything to make my interlocutor feel what she has made me feel. And anyone who glances through the comments I have left on this blog will have no problem finding evidence of times I have lost my cool. I know I have said things I wish I hadn’t.
But these unpleasant visitations do not always end so poorly. Sometimes, as I learned tonight, they can inspire in us a fresh appreciation for forgotten beauty or push us in the direction of unexpected theological insights. Grace does not always look like we think it should. Today, a woman I can know only by the name of Mary left me the following response to an old essay of mine entitled “Jesus Was Not A Bully; The Ambo Is Not A Bully Pulpit.”
U.S. Americans typically have responded to the release of the Senate Committee’s Report on Torture by debating either the morality or the efficacy of torture. When opponents denounce torture as ineffective they do so because they believe that it does not provide the United States government reliable information about terrorism while those who disagree claim just the opposite. And when others decry torture on ethical grounds they do so because they believe torture an immoral way of securing national safety while those who disagree claim just the opposite. Either way, both debates center around whether or not torture represents an appropriate means to the end of self-defense against terrorism.
But what if torture serves another, even more primary purpose? What if, not foreign terrorists and their intransigent allies, but the U.S.-American public supplies the ultimate target of the torture wreaked upon the bodies hidden away in secret prisons scattered across pro-American parts of the globe? What if torture’s success lies precisely in its failure both to conform to long-recognized moral norms and to demonstrate with certainty that it gathers life-saving information.
We have misclassified torture. Rather than a strategy, I argue, the torture deployed in the war on terror operates as a soteriology, a type of salvation story.
The Synod of Bishops on the Family has begun.
Pope Francis convened this synod nearly a year ago in order to address “concerns which were unheard of until a few years ago,” including but not limited to phenomena like “the widespread practice of cohabitation, which does not lead to marriage…same-sex unions…marriages with the consequent problem of a dowry, sometimes understood as the purchase price of the woman…an increase in the practice of surrogate motherhood” and so on. Like Pope Francis, those Catholics who have spent the past year anticipating this synod have similarly focused most intently on issues of sex and sexuality. Many Catholics hope that the bishops will re-consider the sacramental status of divorced and remarried Catholics or perhaps even soften the church’s stance on the use of contraception within marriage.
I do not deny the deep relation between sexuality and family. Nor do I contest the importance of any of the issues enumerated by Pope Francis. Drawing upon the church’s own wisdom, I simply want to argue that the “pastoral challenges to the family in the context of Evangelization” extend beyond matters of sex and sexuality. Structural injustice wreaks havoc upon the family just as much as disordered expressions of sexuality do.
Catholic Social Teaching stresses the relation between the social and sexual orders. In his 1981 Apostolic Exhortation, “On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World,” Pope John Paul II reminds us,
“In the conviction that the good of the family is an indispensable and essential value of the civil community, the public authorities must do everything possible to ensure that families have all those aids—economic, social, educational, political, and cultural assistance—that they need in order to face their responsibilities in a human way.” (no. 45).
But poor families do not simply lack assistance; they are burdened by injustice. In its embrace of the preferential option for the poor, the church recognizes this. God is for preferentially for those whom the world is especially against. God puts first those whom the world places last. God loves us not just in history but in response to it.