Sex And Social Justice At the Synod on the Family

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.

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(Un)just War and Veteran’s Day

Today, November 11, marks Veteran’s Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in Canada.  Originally called Armistice Day and begun to mark the end of the “War to End all Wars,” Veteran’s Day now celebrates the service and sacrifice of soldiers who have fought in all of the United States’ wars.  (Turns out the First World War was not the war to end all wars after all).

Today I find myself torn between two undeniable realities.

One: millions of U.S.-Americans have fought and sometimes died with the intention of securing the “freedom” of their fellow countrywomen and men.

Two: many of these wars have been unjust.  The United States military has oppressed at least as much as it has liberated.  It has inflicted violence upon the defenseless bodies of children at least as much as it has protected them from it.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Was Not A Political Conservative

Some things to keep in mind on this fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, a day when everyone is claiming King as their ideological ally.

1) Martin Luther King was against imperialism and believed the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”

2) He believed in using the power of the federal government to improve the lives of poor people.

3) He believed in using the power of the federal government to force white people to do right by their black countrywomen and men.  He believed in changing laws at least as much as he believed in changing hearts.

4) He was a pacifist and rejected all calls to use violence to fight even the greatest of evils, including the unpunished murder of children.

5) He believed that law and order often bears little resemblance to justice.

How Should White Advocates of LGBT Rights Speak About Black History?

In 1996, famed Civil Rights leader John Lewis was one of very few Congressional representatives to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  It passed the House by a vote of 432 to 67.  The U.S. Senate affirmed it by a count of 85 to 14.  Bill “I feel your pain” Clinton signed it into law.

But John Lewis, a middle-aged straight man from the Deep South, voted against it.  And drawing upon his experience growing up a black man during the reign of terror known as Jim Crow, he stood up and made a speech against it.

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Adventures in Missing the Point


I’ve been trying to write a blog post for the last few weeks now… ever since a good friend of mine pointed out this post to me, where Bo Sanders offers a proposal arguing that “privilege is not racism, sexism, or oppression.”  In his post, Bo suggests that:

The conversation around issues of Race-Gender-Class and Identity Politics usually breaks down and becomes unfruitful due to two fatal flaws in how the conversation is framed.

Bo sugests that the first flaw is “the use of either-or binaries and dualisms that are too limiting,” and the second flaw is “the sloppy mixing of words and categories without clear distinction.” He goes on to argue that we should make a change from our dualistic thinking, moving instead to delineation between a) privilege, b) racism/sexism, and c) oppression/marginalization.

I’ve struggled with where, and how, to begin to respond to this post… Luckily for me, and my writer’s block, someone already beat me to it—Sarah Moon wrote an excellent blog post on “Tony Jones, Peter Rollins, and the trend of ‘don’t call me a racist!’”

While her post was in response to a different (though ostensibly related/overlapping) set of authors, it was definitely in response to the same trend… as she puts it, the “trend among white, straight academic cis men in progressive or emergent Christianity where calling someone racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. is a bigger problem than the existence of racism, sexism, and homophobia.” (emphasis mine).

I did, however, briefly want to elaborate on some of what Sarah has said, and make some connections with some other things I’ve read in the blogosphere this week. Continue reading

Remembering Empire in the Aftermath of an Earthquake: Why North Americans Need Haiti

Saturday, January 12, marks the three year anniversary of the earthquake that left Haiti in ruins.  Immediately after this earthquake, scenes of Haitian suffering appeared with unprecedented frequency on TV screens throughout the United States.  In response, many North Americans looked upon Haiti with compassion, sending money to assist the impoverished country in its rebuilding efforts.

But we did not hear very much about why Haiti was so poor in the first place.  Haiti’s poverty seemingly appeared out of thin air, and, like all facts of life, was thought to require no explanation.  In this framing, when we think of Haiti (and surely, we almost never think of Haiti) we imagine it a country in need of North American benevolence.  We imagine ourselves heroes–aid workers, missionaries, liberators. Never do we consider ourselves among the major villains of Haitian history.

But we should.

As I explain in an article for The Other Journal, the histories of Haiti and the United States exhibit an abiding interconnectedness that stretches back to each country’s revolutionary inception more than two hundred years ago.  For most of this history, to Haiti, the United States has operated not as an ally but as an oppressor.  Both countries threw off the shackles (and only in Haiti’s case were these shackles literal and not metaphorical-rhetorical) of their colonial oppressors.  But the American Revolution comprised a quarrel between white supremacies while the Haitian Revolution served as a stunning repudiation of it.  Thus,

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