Election

Who Speaks for Catholics?

FATHER JACK MORRIS was one of those Catholic priests who ruined a lot of people for life. I'm one of them.

Father Morris passed away Sept. 30 in Spokane, Wash. He was working with the Catholic sisters and others who ran the highly regarded Copper Valley School in Alaska in the late 1950s when he took the idea of young people volunteering their time with and for Native Alaskans and helped turn it into the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Since then, more than 12,000 people have served in the JVC, whose motto "ruined for life" reflects the fact that voluntary service often makes enduring changes in the way participants view the world. (A few years ago, Father Morris told Sojourners that the motto is "a resurrection statement"—through volunteering, he said, "you're transformed.")

I spent my first two years after college as a Jesuit Volunteer, first at the Oregon Center for Peace and Justice in Portland and then at Georgetown University's Center for Peace Studies. My mentor and boss in Portland was the center's director, Sister Michele Phiffer. She worked for years helping Catholics in Oregon understand the church's social teaching on the common good and the preferential option for people who are poor.

Perhaps needless to say, the local bishops weren't always on her side. In fact, it often appeared—even to my young eyes—that the bishops were more interested in protecting their own privilege and power than in genuinely working for the marginalized. And Sister Michele's gender seemed to be a factor in the lack of support she received from the episcopal powers that were.

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A Season of Urgent Patience

Photo: Christmas countdown illustration, © Jiri Hera, Shutterstock.com
Photo: Christmas countdown illustration, © Jiri Hera, Shutterstock.com

On the morning of Nov. 7, just hours after polling places closed and as votes continued to be counted, the national attention seemed to simultaneously switch from projected winners to the issues that deserved immediate attention. Instead of speculation surrounding which candidates may emerge victorious, many expressed the need for swift action on climate change, job creation, and education reform. The meticulous analysis of exit polls was abruptly replaced with calls for change surrounding immigration, taxes, and sustainable peace in the Middle East. Wwithin moments of receiving the news of Election Day winners, the general public swiftly switched its collective attention to matters of the immediate future. 

In light of the various challenges facing our national and global community, there are indeed numerous issues that require the immediate attention of our elected officials.  And our newly re-elected president, as well as others placed into public service, should be called upon for genuine cooperation, fair action, and immediate impact.  

But while urgency is required in light of pressing concerns, an overindulgence of immediacy also contains a long list of shortcomings. Discipline and patience are required to bring forth intellectual depth, balanced consideration, and lasting compassion.  As humans are more inclined to favor short-term over long-term rewards, the virtue of patience should be appreciated for its many worthwhile benefits.     

Obama’s Immigration Opportunity

Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com

As President Barack Obama prepares for a second term, immigration reform is rumored to be at the top of his agenda. With conservative opinion on the issue shifting, a unique opportunity exists to fix our nation’s broken immigration system. Americans are eager to see the president and Congress make progress on this unnecessarily vexing issue.

The record Latino voter turnout in support of President Obama played a key role in his electoral victory, as he won 71 percent of the vote compared with 27 percent for Gov. Mitt Romney.

These results have provided a catalyst for reenergizing the conversation around comprehensive immigration reform and paved the way for unexpected conversations among conservatives.

New Congress More Religiously Diverse, Less Protestant

Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, RNS photo courtesy Tulsi Gabbard's campaign
Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, RNS photo courtesy Tulsi Gabbard's campaign

Three Buddhists, a Hindu, and a “none” will walk into the 113th Congress, and it’s no joke. Rather, it’s a series of “firsts” that reflect the growing religious diversity of the country.

When the new Congress is sworn in next January, Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran, will represent the state’s 2nd Congressional District and will become the first Hindu in either chamber on Capitol Hill.

The 31-year-old Gabbard was born in American Samoa to a Catholic father and a Hindu mother, and moved to Hawaii as a child. She follows the Vaishnava branch of Hinduism, which venerates the deity Lord Vishnu and his primary incarnations.

Gabbard takes over the seat held by Rep. Mazie K. Hirono, who won a Senate race on Nov. 6 and will become the first Buddhist to sit in the upper chamber. There were already two other Buddhists in the House of Representatives, both of whom won re-election: Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, a fellow Hawaii Democrat.

Ancient Wisdom for 21st Century Problems

Traditional church pulpit, © Pattie Steib |Shutterstock.com
Traditional church pulpit, © Pattie Steib |Shutterstock.com

In an attempt to make sense of the 2012 election and the unfolding David Petraeus sex scandal, I consulted the Bible and the Sayings of the Fathers, a collection of sage rabbinic teachings written between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D.

Turns out the ancient perceptions about politics and ethics are as insightful today as when they were first uttered.

I am appalled when clergy of any religion endorse candidates by name in the run-up to an election. Priests, ministers, rabbis and imams, of course, have every right to vote for any particular person they choose, thanks to the secret ballot. The clergy also have the right — indeed, the obligation — to discuss and debate the critical issues facing society. But religious leaders err and undermine their own authority when they publicly call for the election or defeat of a specific individual.

Last month “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” was sponsored by a group called the Alliance Defending Freedom. Nearly 1,500 Christian ministers openly backed various candidates as they tested the U.S. tax code, which forbids non-profit organizations (including houses of worship) from speaking out for or against political candidates. Such actions endanger their tax-exempt status, but the ADF sees that restriction as an incursion on freedom of religion and speech.

Civic Duty: What Can I Do Now?

Photo: Grocery shopping, Kzenon / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Grocery shopping, Kzenon / Shutterstock.com

This starts as a question: What can I do now, as a citizen?

On Nov. 6, the answer was clear. Vote. Vote. Vote.

Well and done. Four years ago, too, I voted in November on Election Day, with a box of Fruity Cheerios under one arm.

In the weeks leading up to the election, my civic heart was tuned well. Watch the debates. Discuss. Then vote, because, actually, the pressure is quite enormous. Vote or Die. The Facebook news feed can crush you, flatten you into voting, which is all well and good. I can be for that. Civic pressure.

But come Nov. 7, the pressure released. The civic duty was fulfilled. And my question remains, sincerely. What can I do now?

I ask the question; one, because I do not know the answer; two, because I have an entirely different answer. So first, the question stands: What can I do now, as a citizen?

The 'Nones' Say 2012 Election Proves They are a Political Force

Man Holding Sign Exclamation Eugenio Marongiu / Shutterstock
Man Holding Sign Exclamation Eugenio Marongiu / Shutterstock

Last month, Lauren Anderson Youngblood, communications manager for the Secular Coalition for America, approached Broderick Johnson, a senior adviser to the Obama campaign, as they both left a conference on religion and the election.

The SCA is an umbrella group representing 11 nontheistic organizations. So who, Youngblood asked Johnson, could she reach out to with their concerns about civil rights, access to health care and education?

“He said, ‘We don’t view you as a constituency,’” Youngblood said. “He said, ‘We don’t do outreach to that community.’”

After Tuesday's election, that may soon change. According to a Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life study released last month, “nones”  those who say they have no religious affiliation or do not believe in God  are the fastest-growing faith group in America, at 20 percent of the population, or 46 million adults.

In addition, nationwide exit polls conducted Tuesday show that "nones" made up 12 percent of all voters  more than the combined number of voters who are Jewish, Muslim or members of other non-Christian faiths (9 percent), and only slightly smaller than the combined number of Hispanic Catholics and Black Protestants (14 percent). 

The Money Map

We’re all accustomed to the electoral maps of the United States – blue states on both coasts and the upper Midwest, everywhere else a sea of red. We’ll be seeing them all evening. But what if the map were drawn with states scaled to size according to the outside money spent in them? NPR has a fascinating video that does it. It’s worth a look.

Why Is Voting Made So Difficult?

As millions of Americans wait in long lines to vote today, David Firestone wonders why it has to be so difficult.

“This is the day when voters raised on a reverence for democracy realize the utter disregard their leaders hold for that concept. The moment state and local officials around the country get elected, they stop caring about making it easy for their constituents to vote. Some do so deliberately, for partisan reasons, while others just don’t pay attention or decide they have bigger priorities.

“The result can be seen in the confusion, the breakdowns, and the agonizingly slow lines at thousands of precincts in almost every state.

“As they stand in windswept, hour-long lines to cast a ballot, voters might ask themselves, why are there so few polling places and workers? Why isn’t the government making it easier for me to vote, rather than forcing me through an endurance contest?”

Pregnant with Possibility

THE TASTE OF the election still may be in our mouths—but Advent is breaking in.

Advent is a four-week stomp to Christmas. It is the time when God starts to show. God is pregnant during Advent: pregnant with possibilities that somehow, some way, someday, things will be different. They will taste better. We will know their taste better. We will be able to be engaged in our lives and our commitments and also be at peace. We will be the ones at the birthside, marveling about how God could dare come as a child or send heaven to earth, spirit to flesh, drenching humanity with divinity. The big words for this showing will be “Son of God” and “joy to the world.” The angels will sing, the night will go silent, the people will hark.

This Christmas would be a great time to notice what we have already seen: that when leaders and things get too large, when we put too much trust or hope in them, they revert to a brutal and brutalizing smallness. When we put trust in what we can notice, what we can do and who we can be, we are rarely disappointed. We expect, expectantly, as though we too were pregnant, day by day, with the possible.

For now, there is the waiting, the preparing for an Advent practice that will smell and taste good, that will open doors on more than a calendar.

I am an avid reader of women’s magazines, especially those that have a centerfold of the perfect Christmas dinner. I praise that dinner, hope for it, plan for it, and then eat with vigor what really comes out. A friend has a sign on her refrigerator about the difference between what we usually have and what the magazine announced: “It’s not going to happen that way.” By that sign, she is preparing herself for a day and a life of surprises. She is grooming her “to don’t” list.

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