Tobias Winright is a contributing writer for Sojourners, and he holds the Maeder Chair in Health Care Ethics and is teaches theological ethics at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, MO. He recently edited Can War Be Just in the 21st Century? Ethicists Engage the Tradition (Orbis Books, 2015).
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What Do Pope Francis’ Statements on Nuclear Weapons Mean for Catholics in the Military?
This is where most of us Catholic citizens appear to be, by paying our taxes and going about our lives while our government and our military continue to possess and rely on nuclear weapons. Our Church seems to challenge that we have proportionate reason to do so. For now, we appear to be morally culpable — but less so if we genuinely begin to work toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.
Nuclear Warfare Is Not a Game of Risk
This is why those Catholics and other Christians who hold that armed force may sometimes be morally justifiable (i.e., just war theory) tend to be "nuclear pacifists” — nuclear war would probably be total war, violating just war principles such as noncombatant immunity and proportionality. And a "first use" to prevent an attack that is not both imminent and grave raises even more red flags.
Missouri Set to Execute Mark Christeson Jan. 31, Fourth U.S. Execution in 2017
As a Catholic moral theologian (and a former corrections officer and reserve police officer), I urge you to stay Mark Christeson’s execution, scheduled for Jan. 31. There are still ongoing federal appeals concerning Christeson’s right to representation by competent and adequately funded counsel.
The Curse of Doing Nothing for Aleppo
On Dec. 14, Syrian pro-government forces breached the fragile ceasefire agreement, shelling besieged neighborhoods of Aleppo and banning civilians from fleeing. Addressing Syria, Iran, and Russia, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, asked, “Are you incapable of shame? … Is there no execution of a child that gets under your skin? Is there literally nothing that shames you?”
'The police are highly militarized.'
THIS TEXT SENT BY a relative at Standing Rock confirms the images we’ve been seeing from the Standing Rock demonstrations against the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota. On the evening of Nov. 20, local police with armored vehicles fired at water protectors and their allies with water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and percussion grenades; hundreds were injured and several taken to the hospital.
Once again we are at the crux of legitimate protests, private corporate interest, and the use of police and military force to address the situation. Fall 2011 saw law enforcement dismantling Occupy Wall Street encampments throughout the nation, while various Black Lives Matter demonstrations from Ferguson to Baltimore have faced similar confrontation by law enforcement. In all these cases, law enforcement prioritized protection of private property.
This fall, the Morton County sheriff’s department in North Dakota put its muscle behind the companies building the Dakota Access pipeline. The relationship between the use of force for the establishment of order and corporate interests being represented by the government is a tangled and messy system that has been vividly on display at Standing Rock.
The ongoing militarization of the government’s responses to protests over the past five years raises the question of whether there is a legitimate role for law enforcement, including the National Guard, that does not violate the just war criterion of excessive and disproportionate force.
A number of law enforcement programs and districts are having success through the establishment of de-escalation training and principles in their ranks. By putting in place strategies that de-escalate the need for force, either from the protesters or law enforcement, space is opened for negotiations and resolution.
Military force should in no way, shape, or form be used for the protection of corporate interests, particularly over the well-being of persons. The primary goal of law enforcement in these situations ought to be de-escalation as peacekeeping for the sake of avoiding excessive and disproportionate force and for the protection of the dignity and integrity of all involved.
The Military Force at Standing Rock Should Make Us Angry, But Shouldn’t Surprise Us
“The police are highly militarized.”
This recent text sent by a close relative at Standing Rock confirms the images we’ve been seeing from the #NoDAPL #StandingRock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. On the evening of Nov. 20, local police with armored vehicles fired at water protectors and their allies with water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and percussion grenades; hundreds were injured, and several taken to the hospital. Because of the frigid overnight temperatures in the region, medics at the scene were concerned that the use of water cannons would result in severe medical emergencies or even deaths among the members of the encampment.
Learning the Art of Patience
IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT on July 23, 2012, I slipped and fell in the bathroom of our hotel room in downtown Indianapolis during a family vacation. My head slammed onto the sink and then the floor.
The noise from my fall awakened my spouse, but when she asked me what happened as I lay on the floor, all I said was, “I’m okay.” Seeing no visible sign of injury, she returned to bed. A stomach bug was making the rounds, so she figured that it must have nabbed me. My vomiting every hour or so the remainder of the night only seemed to confirm this assumption.
At dawn, however, the first words out of my mouth were: “I think I cracked my skull. You’d better take me to the emergency room.” My wife knew something must be wrong, because I never suggest going to the hospital right away. The physician on duty thought I probably had a mild concussion and that I would be able to go home that day, but a CT scan was needed to make sure.
Afterward, he told me that his earlier hoped-for diagnosis was wrong. Instead, I had fractured my skull, with a subarachnoid hemorrhage and a small epidural hematoma under my left frontal region. In other words, I had a traumatic brain injury, and my life was at risk. In fact, I immediately was loaded into an ambulance and taken to a hospital nearby where neurosurgeons would be better able to treat me.
I Was John Howard Yoder's Graduate Assistant. Should I Still Use His Work?
For me, the question of what to do with Yoder is not only an academic issue but a personal one. I was Yoder’s graduate assistant — and would be his next-to-last — for two years. Academically, how I teach my “War and Peace in the Christian Tradition” course is indebted in great extent to what I learned from him. As evident in numerous footnotes, my scholarship and publications, including for Sojourners, over the last two decades on just war and just policing also owe a lot to both his research and his mentoring.
Nevertheless, after this semester, I am leaning towards Blanton’s recommendation of setting Yoder’s work aside, at least for the foreseeable future. I think it is now possible to rely on the work of others for persuasive defenses of nonviolence and for strong critiques of Niebuhrian realism. I struggled over whether to use one of his books or essays in my course this semester. I hesitated to say anything about Yoder’s misconduct to my students. It took me a while before I did so.
What to do with Yoder? I’m not sure.
The U.S. Is Ignoring Pope Francis' Call to Abolish the Death Penalty
I formerly served as a corrections officer at a maximum security facility. I also used to be a reserve police officer. I have sped through city streets in a squad car, sirens blaring, on my way to shootings. I have booked and interviewed (interrogated) alleged murderers. I have seen victims’ families cry. I have had inmates hit me. I even used force when I wore a badge. And yet, as a Catholic Christian, over the years I have come to oppose capital punishment for a number of reasons.
I agree with Pope Francis’ remarks about the death penalty. During his speech before Congress, Democrats and Republicans applauded when he emphasized: “Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’” (Mt 7:12). The pope added: “This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”
A Matter of Degrees
Two underserved populations are earning college degrees in prison these days. Only one of them is incarcerated.
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