Friday, October 31, 2008

Out and About - October 2008

On Solidarity Sunday, October 5, I delivered the homily at the Spirit of St. Stephen’s Catholic Community - an intentional faith community composed of people who up until March of this year had worshiped at the South Minneapolis parish of St. Stephen’s.

To read the text of my homily, “Dispatches from the Periphery,” click here.

In the photo above I’m pictured with three of the inspiring elders of St. Stephen’s, (from left) Beryl Wolney, Julie Koegl, and Theresa Mueller. Beryl and Julie feature in The Progressive Catholic Voice documentary, The Spirit of St. Stephen’s: Celebrating the Past and Envisioning the Future of a Catholic Community in Transition.

Above: Celebrating Dignity Twin Cities34th Anniversary with Rev. Marty Shanahan of Spirit of Hope Catholic Community – October 10, 2008.

From left: Greg, Roman, Jenny Downey, Rev. Marty Shanahan, Jeanne Cornish, Jim Larson, Brian McNeill (Dignity Twin Cities president), and David Cornish.

Above: On Sunday, October 12, my friend Jane McDonald, CSJ (left) and I visited the St. Joseph Workers house in Minneapolis.

The St. Joseph Workers program is a volunteer program of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet - St. Paul Province that trains, supports, and mentors young women to be change agents while meeting direct needs in the community and working for justice. The program is grounded in the values of justice, leadership, spirituality, intentional community, and living simply.

Above: Soul singer Maxwell in concert at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis – October 21, 2008.

For more images of Maxwell in concert, click here.

Above and below: CPCSM’s October board meeting – October 22, 2008.

From left: David McCaffrey (CPCSM co-founder and board vice-president); Mary Lynn Murphy (outgoing CPCSM president); Brigid McDonald; Paul Fleege; Tom Murr; Theresa O’Brien; Mary Beckfeld (incoming CPCSM president); and Rick Notch (CPCSM treasurer).

Above and below: Celebrating my 43rd birthday – October 23, 2008.

In the image above I’m pictured with my friends (from left) Carol and Ken Masters, Paul Chillman, and Kathleen Rouna.

Above: Carrie and Cass.

Above (from left): Rita, Daniel, Mike, Mary Lynn, Kate, Kathleen, and Marguerite.

Above: Nicholas, Paula, Roman, Kate, and Greg.

Above: Mary Lynn, Daniel, Kate, and Kathleen.

Above and below: The beauty of autumn in Minnesota!

For more images, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Back in the USA
Out and About - April 2007
Out and About - May 2007
Out and About - June 2007
Out and About - July 2007
Out and About - August 2007
Out and About - September 2007
Out and About - October 2007
Out and About - November 2007
Out and About - December 2007
Out and About - January 2008
Out and About - February 2008
Out and About - March 2008
Out and About: April 2008
Out and About - May 2008
Out and About - June 2008
Out and About - July 2008
Out and About - August 2008
Out and About - September 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Stop in the Name of Discriminatory Ideology!

Last Monday night (October 20) some friends and I attended the Archbishop Ireland Memorial Lecture Series at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. This series is a program of the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity, and last Monday’s lecture featured Janet Smith (pictured at right), the Saint Paul Seminary’s “first scholar in residence.”

The seminary’s website has little information on Janet Smith’s educational credentials, and as Paula Ruddy discovered when researching a recent article for The Progressive Catholic Voice, an internet search fails to reveal where Dr. Smith went to school or received her training.* Promotional material for Dr. Smith’s talk on the seminary’s website simply says that she “holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit” and that she’s the author of Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later and Contraception: Why Not.

Elsewhere on the website of the University of St. Thomas, Dr. Smith is described as an “ethicist” and the author of Why Humanae Vitae Was Right: A Reader. Her latest book is on bioethics and is entitled Life Issues, Medical Choices, Questions and Answers for Catholics.

This same site notes that: “Smith has taught at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Dallas, where she received the Haggar Teaching Award. She also received the Pro-Life Person of the Year from the Diocese of Dallas and the Cardinal Wright Award from the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. Smith is serving a second term as a consultor to the Pontifical Council on the Family. More than a million copies of her talk, Contraception: Why Not have been distributed.”


I must admit that I find the lack of available information about Smith’s qualifications as a scholar to be perplexing. After Smith’s talk I spoke to a high-ranking faculty member of the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity. Incredibly, he was unable to tell me in what area Smith’s doctoral studies had been.

“Classics,” he offered uncertainly, “maybe philosophy.”

He was clearly embarrassed by his lack of knowledge concerning his institution’s “scholar in residence” and so asked that his name not be used in anything I wrote about Smith’s presentation.

Disappointed but undeterred by his response, I posed a follow-up question: Would the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity ever consider hosting someone like Margaret Farley, Daniel Helminiak, or Joan Timmerman – renowned Catholic scholars who intelligently and respectfully critique and challenge the Church’s sexual theology? He said that the works of such people are covered “in the classroom,” but that for a public lecture, such as the Archbishop Ireland Memorial Lecture Series, only someone who supported church teaching is acceptable.


So what of Janet Smith herself and the talk she gave as “scholar in residence”?

Well, as I mentioned to the seminary faculty member with whom I conversed, I didn’t detect very much scholarship in her presentation. Rather, she simply expounded upon the sexual theology contained in a number of writings by Pope John Paul II. Indeed, she came across as more of a cheerleader for the late pope and his “Theology of the Body” than an original thinker in the field of either theology or ethics.

Most of the slides in her Powerpoint presentation contained a holy card-type image of John Paul II in the top right hand corner. Honestly, I was half expecting Smith to blow a kiss to this picture of the pope at some point during her presentation!

Her talk had the rather ridiculous title, “Stop in the Name of Love! – John Paul II on Transforming Sexual Desire.” Who would have thought the late pontiff was a Motown fan! Seriously, though, Smith herself conceded that the title of her presentation was not of her choosing. Which, when you think about it, is rather odd: a visiting scholar in residence can’t choose the title of her own public presentation?

In reiterating the sexual theology of John Paul II, Smith reminded those in attendance that the sexual urge is “fundamentally selfish and must be transformed into something fundamentally unselfish, which is love.”

Gay love, however, doesn’t make the grade.

No, for Janet Smith, love must fit a certain understanding of “objective reality” – Pope John Paul II’s understanding!

Accordingly, the “selfish” sexual desire of humans must be transformed into an expression of sexual love that can only be heterosexual (one man, one woman in the state of sacramental marriage) and must always be open to new life, understood solely in terms of procreation.

Thus an “ideal” is lifted up as “objective reality,” and any and all acts that do not correspond with this “reality” are viewed as bad and wrong. Contraceptive sex and gay sex were offered by Smith as examples of such acts. Furthermore, if a person finds fulfillment and/or enjoyment through these acts, then it means he/she is delusional as only acts that correspond with “objective reality” can rationally be appreciated and enjoyed.

A closed system

Of course the question has to be asked: Whose experiences, whose reality is being observed and utilized to inform this understanding of “objective reality”? Smith acknowledges that John Paul II based his views on reality on human experience, yet judging from the narrow theology that resulted, the pope seems to have been very selective with regard to the experiences of humanity that he chose to observe and utilize so as to shape his vision of “objective reality.”

Not surprisingly, the failure of Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” to speak meaningfully to and for people and the non-reception of Humanae Vitae (which he vigorously defended throughout his pontificate) are readily seen by the vast majority of Catholics to be the result of the institutional church’s dismal failure to integrate into its thinking and teaching the corporate body of Christians’ experience and wisdom regarding sexuality. And once one recognizes this failure, then the pope’s and Janet Smith’s “objective reality” can be seen for what it really is: a discriminatory ideology; a closed system of ideas and beliefs that starts with a premise already inside the system. For the architects and guardians of such a system, no experiences, insights, and questions that arise beyond the system can be tolerated. Indeed, they are routinely condemned and actively discriminated against.

This is because experiences beyond their view of “objective reality” are viewed as acts outside the laws of nature, as acts that are shameful, embarrassing, wrong, and the result of humanity’s fallen state. Yet theologian Joan Timmerman has proposed that perhaps it is “the hubris of those who would pretend to be gods that would lead them to be ashamed and embarrassed at being sexual.”

For Timmerman, “rejection of the sexual and attempts to exclude it (‘outlaw’ it) are symptoms of the fallen condition.”

In her insightful essay, “Thoughts While Reading Over the Bishops’ Shoulders,” Timmerman notes that:

When outlawed in such fashion, the “lower” nature gets its own back by behaving lawlessly. This is lust. But lust is produced by shame, not vice versa. The disorder, that which leads to unacceptable acts, is not sexual orientation but contempt for the sexual.

“Sloppy and false”

A priest who heard Smith speak at Archbishop Nienstedt’s August 28 “marriage study day,” told me that he found her arguments “sloppy and false.” I’d have to say that, after listening to her speak last week, I found her arguments to be also naive and her worldview bordering on the superstitious.

According to Smith, the Holy Spirit chose Karol Wojtyla so that as Pope John Paul II he would “courageously defend” Humanae Vitae. She finds evidence for such a contention in the fact that John Paul II noted that this controversial document was “central to the whole magisterium” of his pontificate. And Smith is clearly dedicated to continuing the pope’s vigorous defense of Humanae Vitae, a defending that she frames in terms of “spiritual warfare.” Again, she draws from events in the pope’s life to justify this claim: apparently on the day in 1981 when the attempt was made on Pope John Paul II life, he was to open a Commission on Marriage and the Family. Satan himself was trying to “take out” the pope, according to Smith, and prevent him from his life’s mission of defending and promoting Humanae Vitae.

I also gathered that, for Smith, the accounts of creation that we find in Genesis are literally true. Furthermore, it’s objectively true that “sex leads to babies,” and that “God made human sexuality so that He can get more souls into Heaven.” Accordingly, Smith maintains that if people would just think of every sexual act as an invitation from God to create a new soul, then they would “govern” their sexual behavior appropriately, i.e., in accordance with the “objective reality” that “sex leads to babies.” Not surprisingly, “expanding the circle of love,” for Smith, seems to be always and only about procreation.

Alternative perspectives

Contrast this “sex=babies” perspective with how actual theologians - Catholic and Protestant - understand and talk about the purpose of human sexuality. For instance, in their book, The Wisdom of the Body: Making Sense of Our Sexuality, Evelyn and James Whitehead “draw out and make public the sense of the faithful about Christians and their sexuality.” Accordingly, they note that the “truth” about sexuality is that the life of Jesus challenges all, married and unmarried, to “a more than genital love, a larger than biological family, a fruitfulness that goes beyond fecundity.”

Donald G. Hanway, author of A Theology of Gay and Lesbian Inclusion, similarly observes that:

[Sex] is not just about maintaining the species, but about reaching out in relationship. Sex and spirit are not opposites: they are part of one yearning toward wholeness. . . . Sex is bound up with important developmental and maintenance needs such as caring, self-expression, self-esteem, and human connection at multiple levels. In terms of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, sex encompasses the spiritual as well as the physical, and it ranges from simple relief of tension to higher levels such as love, esteem, aesthetic appreciation, and self-actualization. . . . Sex makes use of all our human capacities: tenderness, strength, imagination, the use of all our senses, and our use of symbols. It calls forth not just our lowest impulses but also our highest impulses such as generosity and the desire to lose ourselves in another.

Theologian Daniel Helminiak, in discussing natural law and human sexuality notes that:

To be sure, procreation is an inherent aspect of sexuality. But there is more to sex than that, especially when we look at sex in human beings. Procreation is an animal function. In humans sex is taken up into a new array of purposes. Human sex involves emotional bonding and the dreams and promises of lovers. That is to say, beyond the physical, human sex also involves the psychological and the spiritual. (I see “dreams and promises,” or ideals, and beliefs and ethics – all ways of suggesting meaning and value – as spiritual matters.) So having sex (physical) seduces lovers (emotional) into dreaming dreams and making promises (spiritual). The trend of sex is toward higher things. And since the spiritual dimension of human sexual sharing is the highest and most significant, it is what determines the unique nature of human sexuality, so it is what must be preserved in every case. Not procreation, but genuine care and loving are the non-negotiables of human sex.

Margaret Farley draws similar conclusions, though she cautions against the ease by which love can be sentimentalized and thus distorted if it does not presuppose justice as its more inclusive framework. In his review of her award-winning book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, Paul Capetz notes the following of Farley’s conclusions:

Love, which is the most appropriate context for the embodied expression of sexuality, requires justice as its sine qua non. While love, as the cherishing of another human being, goes beyond justice, love must never leave justice behind. From within this revised ethical framework wherein love informed by justice is the supreme moral norm for evaluating the appropriateness of sexual relations, traditional prohibitions against homosexuality can no longer be sustained. At the same time, however, consensual and committed relations between persons of the same gender are beholden to the same moral criterion of just love as are heterosexual relations.

And then there’s the wise and beautiful reflections on sexuality offered by theologian and poet, David Weiss:

Sexuality is indeed intended to be procreative, to give life; but our own prejudice – perhaps our desire to stem the flow of God’s creative energy into the world – has led us to understand this in a narrow, biological fashion. But truly, to find ourselves partnered in longing love with another person is to find that we have company in the work of caring for creation. Whether you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or straight – whether you are celibate or sexually active, single or in a relationship – one truth that we hear in the biblical creation account is that human beings were created to tend the Garden, to guide creation’s bounty and to tend its scarcity in ways that promote the flourishing of all. That’s why we’re here. The joy that we know sexually in our bodies is there, at least in part, to lure us into the holy act of caring for all that is embodied, for all the ecological diversity that reflects God’s rampant desire for incarnation.

We don’t need a partner to do this. But if in our partnerships we fail to look outward and tend to the corner of creation around us – whether that is children or other humans, animals or ecosystems, or simply our household resources – if our love for another person does not spill out into these areas, we have missed something of the presence of God. God is always engaged in the care of life, especially among the vulnerable. And no one need shrink from the expectation that Christian sexual love should be procreative. Lived well, it always is.

I wonder if Janet Smith has read and reflected upon these wonderfully expansive theological perspectives on the gift of human sexuality?

Then again, how would it be possible for her closed system of ideas and beliefs to access them? It can’t, and so Smith remains adamant that our experiences are only valid and helpful in shaping our lives and our understanding of sex if they match what, in reality, is a discriminatory ideology - one which through its highly selective observations, insists that the sole primary function of sex is procreation.

In such an understanding, Smith reduces the male sex drive to physicality and the female’s to sentimentality (the character of Madame Bovary was her example of female sexuality). In doing so she entirely leaves out the context of need for human intimacy, union, and release that can occur respectfully and lovingly between a man and a woman, between a man and a man, and between a woman and a woman who have not committed themselves to anything other than the act itself. They might have a desire for permanent monogamous relationship, even children, but impermanent relationship may be all that is possible for them in the moment. That does not make the moment any the less good. The good that they experience, if it is a good experience, is in itself an “objective reality.” It may not be “ideal” or even “special” but it can still be true.

Sensus fidelium

Of course, the idea that it’s God’s will that each and every sexual act must be open to biological procreation is a core teaching within the sexual theology of Roman Catholicism. It’s a teaching (and theology), however, that clearly has been rejected by the
sensus fidelium, the Spirit-inspired beliefs of the faithful. Smith herself acknowledged that over 95% of Catholic couples reject Humanae Vitae.

However, she dismisses such rejection as “dissent” (understood solely as something negative - as if faithful dissent doesn’t have a legitimate place in Catholicism!) and/or the fact that people “haven’t actually read Humanae Vitae.” Furthermore, all those dissenters aren’t really part of the sensus fidelium, according to Smith. Only those who are good practicing Catholics, those who already agree with what the Church teaches, are included in the “sense of the faithful.” Yes, it’s that closed system again - one that by necessity requires circular logic such as this. But as my priest friend notes, it’s logic that is “sloppy and false.”

Smith’s talk was full of such specious arguments. She also had the rather annoying and, quite frankly, insulting habit of flipping to an altogether different example when attempting to respond to a specific question or situation. For instance, she equated one audience member’s act of contraceptive sex with his wife to him having an affair with his secretary! She also compared my friend’s support for her gay son and his same-sex relationship to supporting someone having sex with his/her sibling! See what I mean by “insulting”?
But, again, when people operate within a closed system of ideas and beliefs, I don’t think it’s that surprising to hear them react to new data in ways that are irrational, discriminatory, and hurtful to those of us outside their closed system.

A loving God

As incredulous and disappointed as I was by much of what Janet Smith had to say, I realized later that she really does believe she’s defending and promoting a way of thinking about human sexuality that will bring right-relationship and happiness to people’s lives. In other words, like John Paul II, Smith sincerely believes that she’s presenting a certain understanding of human sexuality that, if adhered to, will ensure that people are treated lovingly and respectfully.

We thus have something in common: I too want people to be treated lovingly and respectfully. Yet in espousing the understanding on sexuality that Smith does, there’s a clear lack of respect for gay people - and indeed straight people whose experiences don’t match the “objective reality” defined and articulated by John Paul II.

There’s also a stubborn resistance to see that gay relationships can and do ensure that individuals are treated lovingly and respectfully. Indeed, for many a gay person, the relationship with his/her significant other may have been the first time they experienced such love and respect. Calling such experiences “delusional” is not helpful, loving or respectful.

I do not want to be so attached to a certain understanding of “objective reality” that I fail to perceive, acknowledge, and respond to the transforming presence of God in the lives and relationships of others. I also lament that the theology that emerges from such a rigidly prescribed perspective on reality is always an impoverished and ultimately stagnate attempt at honoring both our living God and our living Catholic tradition. Sadly, it would appear that just such a theology is being promoted at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity.

Smith concluded her presentation by discussing the role of prayer in one’s spiritual life. The most necessary prayer, she said, is “any that reminds us that God is a loving God.” What a pity, I thought, that she is closed to the experience of this “loving God” in the lives and relationships of gay people, indeed to anyone whose experiences take them beyond what she (or rather, Pope John Paul II) narrowly define as “objective reality.”

There may well be “objective reality” but I believe we as humans are still in the process of being guided by our loving God in recognizing, appreciating, and celebrating the full extent of its beauty and complexity. And the only way such guidance is mediated is through our subjective experiences. Even scripture and tradition emerge from and are filtered through human experience. Therefore, to say that we can learn nothing about reality, about God, and/or about what it means to be human from the loving lives and relationships of gay people seems to many of us evidence not of truth but of hubris.

How sweet it is . . .

Here’s a closing thought: Perhaps the title of Janet’s next scholarly project and subsequent presentation could reference not the Supreme’s “Stop in the Name of Love,” but another classic Motown song, Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)” - with the “you” encompassing all who have given and received love, all who have flourished and allowed their beloved to flourish through and within their shared and loving sexual relationship.

Now I realize that it would definitely be a departure for Dr. Smith in terms of her current area of expertise, but I believe she’s capable of finding within herself all that is required to step out and join in trustingly and joyfully exploring and expanding the frontiers of our understanding of God. Such exploring and expansion takes place within the context of a pilgrim Church - a Church open to new questions and possibilities, and one that is still very much on the journey.

And perhaps this journey is teaching us that it’s not so much our sexual desire that needs to be transformed but our hearts and minds so that we can perceive and celebrate God beyond our existing ways of viewing and understanding the presence of love in the lives and relationships around us.

How sweet it is indeed!


* Regular Wild Reed reader Mark Andrews recently did some internet research and unearthed the following information regarding Dr. Smith’s academic credentials: It would appear that she is a trained classicist: B.A. in Classics, 1972, Grinnell College; M.A. in Classical Languages, 1975, University of North Carolina; and Ph.D. in Classical Languages, 1982, University of Toronto. Smith’s dissertation is “Plato’s Use of Myth as a Pedagogical Device” (Unpublished, University of Toronto, 1982). Mark notes that, “It is not clear from the title whether this is a dissertation on philosophy, literature or rhetoric.”

Thanks, Mark, for conducting this research and sharing your findings. Questions remain, however: Why was this information so difficult to find in the first place? Why isn’t it readily available in the biographical information on Smith provided by the seminary website and other online resources?

Recommended Off-site Links:
The Disembodied Theology of John Paul II's “Theology of the Body” - Luke Timothy Johnson (Commonweal, January 26, 2001).
Contraception Ban Remains Bitter Pill - Robert McClory (Chicago Tribune, July 27, 2008).
Dissent: An Honored Part of the Church’s Vocation - Leonard Swidler (National Catholic Reporter, September 1989).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Making Love, Giving Life
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Relationship: The Crucial Factor in Sexual Morality
A Wise and Thoughtful Study of Sexual Ethics
The Non-Negotiables of Human Sex
Joan Timmerman on the “Wisdom of the Body”
Robert McClory on Humanae Vitae
The Many Forms of Courage
Compassion, Christian Community, and Homosexuality
What Is It That Ails You?
Be Not Afraid, You Can Be Happy and Gay
Beyond Courage
Song of Songs: The Bible’s Gay Love Poem
Jesus and the Centurion
The Archangel Michael as Gay Icon
What is a “Lifestyle”?
The Real Gay Agenda
Love is Love
And Love is Lord of All
In the Footsteps of Spring
Same-Sex Marriage: Still Very Much on the Archbishop’s Mind

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Maxwell in Concert

Here are some more images from the great Maxwell concert I attended last Tuesday evening (October 21) at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis.

As you’ll see from these images, Maxwell is one handsome groover and crooner.

His beautiful voice, however, has got to be heard to be believed.

Here’s how one reviewer recently attempted to describe it: “Maxwell’s voice tickled like fingertips on the back of a neck and glided between that sweet falsetto and a deep rumbling growl. Al Jarreau meets Isaac Hayes.”

As I mentioned in a previous post, Maxwell was a key voice in R&B’s neo-soul era of the late 1990’s and, until quite recently, had been on a hiatus since the release of his 2001 album, Now.

Yet his back making music with his current U.S. tour and his forthcoming album, Black Summer’s Night, the first of a trilogy that will be released over the next three years.

Thomas Kintner’s Hartford Courant review serves well for Maxwell’s Minneapolis appearance – right down to the noting of the concert’s delayed start.

[Maxwell’s] set didn’t begin until an hour after the opening act [which in Minneapolis involved a guy playing a synthesizer!] had finished because Maxwell arrived late. But he settled comfortably into the shoulder-loosening groove of his smooth-contoured opener, “Get to Know Ya.” His subtly rich vocal manner nestled into the springy vibe of “Noone,” and showed the strong Prince influences that inhabit much of his music as he shaped a cool falsetto lead for his simmering cover of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work.”

Sporting neat, close-cropped hair rather than the explosive afro that was once his signature, Maxwell dipped into Rat Pack chic for his look. He wore a tuxedo with the tie undone, and sneakers that suited the loose dancing with which he accompanied “Sumthin’ Sumthin’.” The three brass players in his 10-piece band served as supporting vocalists when they weren’t playing, their voices filling out the sturdy, pulsating flow of “Everwanting: To Want You to Want.”

. . . He closed his set with a mix of his voice’s high end and its lean, silky baseline for the juicy sweep of “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder).” From his knees he charged the breezy encore “Whenever Wherever Whatever,” dressing the number with the suave disposition that he exudes almost effortlessly.

Here’s the Soul Bounce review of Maxwell’s October 10 Radio City Hall concert. It captures well the look and vibe experienced at his October 21 concert in Minneapolis.

There was really nothing intricate about the stage setup. It was “Big Band” reminiscent, almost, complete with a horn section. The entire band had on suit jackets; the lone female background vocalist a pink gown. There were no laser light displays or skyscraper sized LCD screens. But when Maxwell finally appeared at the top of a short staircase mid-stage, bathed in bright purple lights, black tuxedo jacket and slacks, white dress shirt perfectly unbuttoned, bow tie casually draped around his neck, short curly hair tightly coiffed, it was all the decoration the audience required. The screams were deafening. Even the fellas had to give it up.

Yes, well, this “fella” didn’t need much prompting.

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
The Return of Maxwell

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Obama Leading Among Catholic Voters

The organization Catholic Democrats has recently reported some interesting facts about Catholic voters in the lead up to this year’s US presidential election.

The group notes that:

Historically, Roman Catholic voters have made up a critical swing vote during Presidential elections, with a significant segment that has moved between Democratic and Republican in each of the last four national elections since 1996. These Catholic swing voters may have a decisive impact on who wins the presidency on November 4th. This election year has seen the resurgence in progressive organizations reaching out to and influencing Catholic swing voters.

In light of this “resurgence,” and its influence on Catholic voters, Catholics for Democrats has compiled the following “Facts About Catholic Voters in the 2008 Presidential Election.”

· Recent polls by Zogby International and The New York Times/CBS indicate that Senator Obama is leading Senator McCain among Catholic voters. Zogby International reported that 53.7% of Catholics selected Senator Obama with 41.5% choosing Senator McCain. The New York Times/CBS polls reports that Senator Obama is leading Senator McCain among white Catholics, a group that President Bush won in 2004, because of economic concerns.

· More than 1600 people signed onto the Catholics for Obama petition endorsing Senator Obama for President in the days preceding the national publicity campaign. Signers include public officials, priests, brothers, and women religious as well as lay Catholics.

· A study of primary exit poll data conducted by Catholic Democrats in the spring indicates that Catholics voted at greater rates (+4%) in the primaries than the general population in 20 out of 21 states. Throughout the spring and summer, Catholics have indicated that the economy is their major concern.

Above: Graph showing the latest opinion poll ratings for
US presidential candidates Obama and McCain since June.
White House front-runner Barack Obama outlined Monday
a “closing argument” to voters as the Democrat’s epic duel with
beleaguered Republican John McCain entered its final full week.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Catholic Democrats
Progressives and Obama (Part 1)
Progressives and Obama (Part 2)
Progressives and Obama (Part 3)
Progressives and Obama (Part 4)
Progressives and Obama (Part 5)
Obama, Ayers, the “S” Word, and the “Most Politically Backward Layers in America”
Obama a Socialist? Hardly
Historic (and Wild!)
One of Those Moments
An American Prayer

Image: US Democratic presidential candidate Illinois Senator Barack Obama delivers a campaign speech at the Canton Civic Center in Canton, Ohio - Monday, October 27, 2008. (AFP/Emmanuel Dunand)

Rebel Knights

Yes, I know this isn’t exactly recent news, but coming across it earlier today I nevertheless found it interesting - and it’s certainly relevant in the lead-up to the presidential election and in light of the recent revelation that Obama is leading among Catholic voters.


Knights Disagree with Leaders
By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service
September 30, 2008

Washington – Upset with a letter from their supreme knight critical of Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Biden, some Knights of Columbus have launched a web site backing Barack Obama for president.

Led by Rick Gebhard, a member ofKnights of Columbus Council 853 at Guardian Angels Parish in the Lake Michigan town of Manistee, Mich., the group launched the web site,, October 3.

A middle-school teacher, Gebhard said he decided to publicly demonstrate his support for the Democratic ticket after reading a letter from Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson that challenges Biden on abortion.

Between 1983 and 1987, Anderson held various positions in President Ronald Reagan’s White House.

“Basically, I read it, and as that letter ended, it said Mr. Anderson was speaking for all knights,” Gebhard told Catholic News Service September 30. “He wasn’t speaking for me.”

Gebhard, a member of Boston-based Catholic Democrats, said he contacted the organization to discuss how he could respond to Anderson’s letter and learned that several other Knights shared his disagreement with Anderson. Within days of the letter's publication, Gebhard decided to pursue the Web site option.

“I guess I am trying to level things out a bit to show that the Knights are not a partisan group and to show there's a mix of beliefs,” he said.

A third-degree Knight who has belonged to the organization for two years, Gebhard said he supports Obama because “his policies are closer to mine on Catholic social teaching.” In explaining his support, Gebhard cited the Illinois senator’s stances on meeting the needs of poor people, increasing access to health care and the need to shelve the concept of pre-emptive war.

At the time CNS spoke with Gebhard, Anderson and other Knights of Columbus leaders were attending meetings in Rome. Patrick Korten, vice president for communications for the Knights, told CNS from Rome Sept. 30 that until they learn more about Knights for Obama the fraternal organization would not respond.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

It Just Won't Do

A number of recent events have reminded me of Mavis Staples’ song “99 ½” from her 2007 album, We’ll Never Turn Back.

Well, I’m runnin’
I'm tryin’ to make 100
99 and 1/2, it won’t do
I’m runnin’,
runnin’ for freedom y’all
’Cause 99 and 1/2 just won’t do

First, I read Nick Coleman’s October 8 column on the arrest of Mark Tracy during last month’s Republican National Convention (RNC) in St. Paul. Tracy, a “a soft-spoken follower of Gandhi and Martin Luther King” and a community faculty member at Metro State University, was one of hundreds of citizens indiscriminately arrested and mistreated by police in what Coleman has called the “great lock-em-up spree.”

I’m sorry but those kinds of illegal and intimidating tactics on the part of the police “just won’t do.”

Coleman has been a vocal critic of the militarization of St. Paul and its police force during the RNC. It’s obvious that for him, this militarization “just won’t do.”

For instance, he wrote earlier this month about my friend Mike Whalen, whose home was raided by police two days before the RNC, and who on October 10 issued a media release saying he and his attorney intend on filing a federal lawsuit against the city of St. Paul. Clearly, what Mike experienced in the lead-up to the RNC “just won’t do.”

Then last weekend Republican Senator Michelle Bachmann insinuated that Barack Obama was “anti-American,” and suggested that the media should basically conduct a “witch hunt” so as to identify the pro-American and the anti-American members of Congress. In the furor that followed her statements, her own party withdrew support (including financial) from her reelection campaign – clearly realizing that statements such as Bachmann’s “just won’t do.”

And then there was yesterday’s statement from the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis about the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), the organization of which I serve as executive coordinator. In this statement, published in the official newspaper of the archdiocese, the current leadership within the chancery shared its opinion that CPCSM was “not an agency of the Roman Catholic Church” and that accordingly, it does not “support, endorse, or recognize CPCSM.”

Well, such an attitude has been evident from the chancery for at least the last five years (dating back to CPCSM’s response to the annual Courage conference at the University of St. Thomas), so my initial reaction to the release of this statement was to wonder what took them so long.

Of course, this attitude and the opinions expressed by the chancery are at odds with the appreciation and support that CPCSM has received throughout its 28 year history from the wider church. Archbishop Nienstedt and others within the chancery may not recognize or support CPCSM, but many other Catholics within the archdiocese clearly do.

The board of directors of CPCSM will, of course, issue an official response to the chancery’s statement – a statement that, sadly, displays an incredible level of ignorance, not only concerning the history of CPCSM in relation to the archdiocese, but also on the role and place of faithful dissent and the primacy of conscience in the Roman Catholic tradition.

No, my friends, this level of ignorance from those who claim authority within our church and the resulting spiritual abuse that such ignorance inflicts upon people “just won’t do.”

So, Friday night being music night at The Wild Reed, here’s the music video created by “modernfreedom” for Mavis Staples’ “99 ½”. It’s one that I dedicate to all who courageously work to identify, confront, and transform the injustice, oppression, ignorance, and violence, be it physical or spiritual, that “just won’t do.”

(Note: This music video contains footage from the 2007 May Day march in Los Angeles where police brutalized many of those who had gathered to peacefully advocate for immigration reform. A number of journalists covering the event were also intimidated and brutalized.)

Now, if your God won’t help you
You better try mine
My God is a freedom God
He’ll make a way for you
in a weary land . . .
My God is a peaceful God
He’s a livin’ God
And He’s a merciful God

Down in Mississippi (It just won’t do)
Brothers in jail (It just won’t do)
Uneducated children (It just won’t do)
It's the 21st century (It just won’t do)
It feels like it's 1960 (It just won’t do)
Broken levies (It just won’t do)
Lyin’ politicians (It just won’t do)
Runnin’ through hatred (It just won’t do)
Homeless babies (It just won’t do)
Freedom now
Lord, I’m runnin’
I’m tryin’ to make 100
Cause 99 and 1/2 just won’t do

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
What It Means to be Catholic
Who Gets to Called “Catholic” - and Why?
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
CPCSM’s Year in Review (2006)
CPCSM’s Year in Review (2007)
Thoughts on Authority and Fidelity
A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride
250+ People Attend Catholic LGBT Pride Prayer Service
300+ People Vigil at the Cathedral in Solidarity with LGBT Catholics
Compassion, Christian Community, and Homosexuality
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Choosing to Stay
Truth Telling: The Greatest of Sins in a Dysfunctional Church
The Many Forms of Courage
When “Guidelines” Lack Guidance
Be Not Afraid, You Can Be Happy and Gay
Our Catholic “Stonewall Moment”
A Catholic’s Prayer for His Fellow Pilgrim, Benedict XVI

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Obama a Socialist? Hardly

The article I share below is written by David Lightman and William Douglas and appeared in yesterday’s Minnesota Pioneer Press.

Despite being a socialist-leaning guy, I appreciate this article’s examination of how various “experts,” such as political scientists, are refuting the McCain campaign’s contention that Barack Obama is a socialist.

Why? Because in doing so they define and discuss socialism without demonizing it. That’s rare in this country, I’ve discovered. Indeed, I can’t tell you how unfortunate and frustrating it is to observe the number of normally rational and intelligent Americans displaying an almost pathological aversion to the word “socialism.” As Lightman and Douglas point out, this is largely due to the linking of socialism to communism (i.e., the communist regimes of despots like Stalin and Mao) during the Red Scare days of the past.

There’s one thing I’d like to add, however, to this particular article: when the authors define socialism as “involv[ing] state ownership of the means of economic production and state-directed sharing of the wealth,” it needs to be said that in authentic socialism (as opposed to, say, corrupted expressions of it such as Stalinism) “state ownership” implies public utilities operated under the democratic control of the people. Thus the recent government bailout of Wall Street was not a socialist action. If it had been truly socialist, these Wall Street financial institutions would now be under the democratic control of the working population. Now whether or not such control is feasible or even possible is another issue.

I also think it’s important to note that the democratic socialism we see in Europe could not be possible in the U.S. where, sadly, the political system is more of a plutocracy (the rule of money) than a democracy (the rule of the people). Most European countries are much more democratic than the U.S. - in part because of their parliamentary systems of governance - systems that ensure, for example, such things as proportional representation.


Socialism? No Way, Say Experts Who Point to the Past

Conservatives’ claim about tax plan for wealthy rebutted

By David Lightman and William Douglas
Minnesota Pioneer Press
October 22, 2008

Make no mistake,” Republican activist John Hancock told a John McCain rally in this St. Louis suburb, “this campaign is a referendum on socialism.”

Republicans have been pounding that theme in recent days, even though Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama hardly fits the classic definition of a socialist.

Critics point to Obama’s plan to raise the top two tax rates on the wealthy as clear evidence of his socialist bent. However, Len Burman, the director of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, said that while Obama “would make the tax system more progressive overall, it would not be a radical shift.”

It wouldn’t qualify as socialism.

“The answer is clearly no, Sen. Obama is not a socialist,” said Paul Beck, a political science professor at Ohio State University. “We’ve had a progressive tax system for some time, and both Republicans and Democrats have bought into it.”

Conservatives often charge that Democrats are engaging in “class warfare” when they want to raise tax rates on the rich — McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, have used the phrase against Obama — but they rarely find such fault when tax rates benefit the wealthy class disproportionately.

Socialism involves state ownership of the means of economic production and state-directed sharing of the wealth. America’s democratic capitalist system is neither socialist nor pure free market.

Rather, it mixes the two, and it has at least since the progressive income tax was introduced 95 years ago. Under it, the wealthy pay higher income tax rates than those who are less fortunate do. It’s a form of sharing the wealth.

Government intervenes in U.S. free markets all the time. The deduction that homeowners get for mortgage interest is one form, because it subsidizes housing. The government contracts that sustain the great U.S. weapons makers, such as Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, are another.

For that matter, President Bush and other Republicans, including McCain, backed a massive federal government rescue of ailing financial institutions this fall, one that’s committed more than $1 trillion so far to “private” banks, even taking partial ownership of the nine biggest.

Socialism has proved more popular in Europe, including in Great Britain, France and Italy. In the United States, the term traditionally has been closely associated with communism, and thus claiming the socialist mantle has been political poison. Since World War II and the Cold War, American political candidates who advocate pure socialism rarely have gotten very far. Most notably, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont was first elected to Congress in 1990 as a socialist and remains one.

The new round of socialism claims was triggered by Obama’s comments last week to “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher in Toledo, Ohio.

Wurzelbacher told Obama he hoped someday to buy a plumbing business, and asked, “Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn’t it?”

Key Bush administration tax cuts are due to expire January 1, 2011. Obama wants to end breaks for most individuals who earn more than $200,000 and families that make more than $250,000; McCain does not. Obama’s position would restore the top rates to where they were under President Bill Clinton, when the economy boomed.

“It’s not that I want to punish your success,” the Illinois senator told Wurzelbacher. “I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they’ve got a chance for success, too. My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s going to be good for everybody. ... I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”

Republicans pounced, and haven’t stopped.

“You see,” McCain said in his radio address Saturday, “he believes in redistributing wealth, not in policies that help us all make more of it. Joe, in his plainspoken way, said this sounded a lot like socialism, and a lot of Americans are thinking along those same lines. In the best case, spreading the wealth around is a familiar idea from the American left.”

It was Bush and McCain who claimed a central role in the drama.

“If we’re moving toward socialism,” Beck said, “it’s a bipartisan event.”

A major challenge the next president faces, former Federal Reserve Board Chairman and Obama backer Paul Volcker said Tuesday, is “how do we reprivatize institutions” that have been “socialized” by the Bush administration?

Many conservatives were uneasy about the bank bailout, but they argue that it’s important to remember that “George Bush is not on the ballot,” said Brent Littlefield of the American Conservative Union.

David Lightman and William Douglas

NOTE: For an actual socialist perspective on Barack Obama, see the previous Wild Reed post, Reality Check.


. . . Then Again, Maybe Obama’s
a Closeted Roman Catholic?

My friend Jim shared with me the following reflection by Ed Kohler of St. Paul.

“You spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody,” Senator Obama is reported to have said to Joe the Plumber.

Some conclude that proves Obama is a socialist. I, however, find him a closet Roman Catholic. For this reason: the underpinning of the Church’s social doctrine for over 100 years is an ancient principle that goes back to Aquinas (1224-1274) that calls for the equitable distribution of limited resources.

Wealth, a limited resource, is more than money. It is also education, health care, a job with a living wage, decent housing, means to live a dignified old age, all resources in short supply.

History shows that the wealthy too often serve their self-interest by opposition to even modest efforts to level the playing field. Only a strong central government has the power to overcome that opposition and move us toward a society where those with much have a little less and those with less have a little more.

Ed Kohler

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
Obama, Ayers, the “S” Word, and the “Most Politically Backward Layers in America”
A Socialist Response to the Financial Crisis
R.I.P. Neoclassical Economics
Capitalism on Trial
John le Carré’s Dark Suspicions
Progressives and Obama (Part 1)
Progressives and Obama (Part 2)
Progressives and Obama (Part 3)
Progressives and Obama (Part 4)
Progressives and Obama (Part 5)

Recommended Off-site Links:
The Left Needs More Socialism - Ronald Aronson (The Nation, April 1, 2006)
World Socialist Web Site

Image 1: Jim Young.
Image 2: Shepard Fairey.