Politics

How the VP Debate Emphasized ‘Single-Issue’ Catholicism

Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages
Vice President Joe Biden and candidate Paul Ryan at the VP Debate. Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages

Catholicism’s social justice teachings have often been called the church’s “best-kept secret,” and after the Oct. 11 vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan – the first such showdown between the first two Catholics to oppose each other on a national ticket – that may still be the case.

While moderator Martha Raddatz earned kudos for her performance, her only question about the candidates’ shared Catholic faith came near the end of the 90-minute debate, and she framed it solely as a question of how their faith affects their policies on abortion rights.

That was seen as a victory for Catholic conservatives and Republicans who want to reinforce the image of the church as a “single-issue” religion – that issue being abortion – and a setback for liberal Democrats and others who have struggled to highlight the church’s teachings on the common good as central to Catholicism’s witness in the public square.

“What a lost opportunity!” wrote Michael O’Loughlin at the blog of America magazine, a national Jesuit weekly. “If the moderator planned to discuss faith, and I’m glad she did, why limit the discussion to one issue, however important, when the full spectrum of Catholic social teaching is ripe for an expansive and thought provoking conversation?”

Where Does Faith Fit in Today’s Politics?

First 2012 Presidential Debate, Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
First 2012 Presidential Debate, Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

It’s always annoyed me when people assume that, because I’m a Christian, I must also be socially conservative on all requisite issues. And while I understand those who lean further right because of their Christian beliefs, I take issue with those who suggest that being both a follower of Christ and a social progressive are mutually exclusive.

In fact, most of my positions on social issues can be traced back to my faith, which goes to show that the spectrum of beliefs taken from any given faith, as well as the many ways in which those beliefs are applied, is wide and arguably still growing as we continue to become increasingly pluralistic and intertwined.

Depending on your perspective, it could be argued that the landscape of presidential candidates either reflects such religious diversity, or that it’s still more of the same old majority rule at play, with a few minor cosmetic adjustments. For some, the fact that a Mormon is the Republican nominee is nothing short of astonishing, and what’s more, that the evangelical right is generally finding their way toward alignment with Mitt Romney’s presidential ticket.

It’s also worth noting that last week's vice presidential debate was the first time in history that we’ve had two Catholic VP nominees running against each other. The only fairly typical one in the group (unless you ask the Muslim conspiracy theorists, that is) is Barack Obama who is a member of the mainline protestant Christian denomination, the United Church of Christ.

Just the Facts Ma’am: Economic Analysis from the Congressional Research Service

Just the Facts signage, Andy Dean Photography / Shutterstock.com
Just the Facts signage, Andy Dean Photography / Shutterstock.com

When we listen to political debates about which public policies will strengthen the economy, it is easy to get lost in a statistical maze. Each side presents economic data in a way that supports their own theory of the case.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is a branch of the Library of Congress that can help us make our own assessments regarding public policy. According to the CRS website, its purpose is to provide “authoritative, confidential, objective and nonpartisan” analyses to members of Congress. 

The relationship between tax rates and the economy is an issue in the current campaign. Thinking about this issue, the CRS looks at empirical data that may or may not confirm theoretical models or ideological assumptions. Thus, like the early TV detective Joe Friday, they want “just the facts ma’am,” and then they try to reach conclusion from these facts.

We’ve Got Issues

If you care about having a substantive conversation about issues that matter, you should share this post.

At its best, Christian faith provides a moral compass for advancing the common good. At worst, Christianity can be hijacked by partisan political agendas that divide and destroy. Sojourners encourages you to develop a robust and well-informed conscience around elections, measuring candidates and their platforms against Christian ethics and values. While we must be careful about translating scripture directly into public policy positions, there are principles and suggested approaches on a range of issues that can provide a critical framework to shape our perspective on public policy.

As we have since 2004, Sojourners has published an issues guide of principles and policies for Christian voters. We encourage you to use this guide to educate yourself on these issues. This can inform you as you write letters to candidates or to your local newspaper, call radio talk shows, and ask candidates at forums or town hall meetings questions based on these principles. Think and pray about whom, you would entrust with the responsibility to lead your community, state, and nation. 

Share this with others and get ready for the conversation to begin.

Biden-Ryan Debate: Battle of the Catholics

RNS photo by Gage Skidmore / courtesy Flickr, Jason and Bonnie Grower / Shutters
Rep. Paul Ryan (left) RNS photo by Gage Skidmore/courtesy Flickr, VP Joe Biden,Jason and Bonnie Grower / Shutterstock.com

When Joe Biden and Paul Ryan face off in the vice-presidential debate Thursday night, it will mark the first showdown of its kind between the first Catholics ever to oppose each other on the major party tickets.

A “Catholic Thrilla in Manila” as a Washington Post headline put it, recalling the famous 1975 Ali-Frazier heavyweight bout in the Philippines. Store window signs in the host city of Danville, Ky., prefer the “Thrill in the Ville.”

Whatever it is called, expectations among Catholics are as high as the stakes for both campaigns.

Joseph Cella, who leads Catholic outreach for the Romney-Ryan campaign in Michigan, where the GOP ticket has nearly closed a 10-point gap, said the campaign is organizing debate-watching parties nationwide.

“I don¹t see how Vice President Biden and Congressman Ryan could avoid discussing principles of importance to Catholics,” said Cella, a veteran conservative activist.

Watch the Vote: 28 Days, 13 States, 1 Prayer

Voting illustration,  gst / Shutterstock.com
Voting illustration, gst / Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: This is the third article in Lisa Sharon Harper’s election season blog series, Watch the Vote. You can read the last article here

With 28 days to go until our nation chooses its 45th president, a string of court victories have knocked down Jim-Crow-style barriers to voting that have been erected in states across the nation. But 13 states are still under the oppressive weight of laws designed to suppress the vote.  

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, starting in early 2011, 41 states introduced legislation to restrict voting laws. Nineteen quietly passed 25 laws and two executive actions, some of which require government-issued photo IDs, proof of citizenship, fewer early-voting days, the elimination of Election Day voter registration, created barriers to voter registration drives, and created more obstacles for citizens with past criminal convictions. 

The good news is that over the past few months we have seen one court case after another block the enactment of the worst provisions of these new Jim Crow laws. According to a recent Brennan Center study, 10 courts have blocked or blunted restrictive voting laws — and the Department of Justice blocked one more — since Oct. 3.

What Was Really Said at the Debate?

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images
The presidential candidates at the Colorado debate. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Last night millions of Americans watched the first Presidential debate of the 2012 election season. During the 90-minute debate, there were significant policy discussions about a range of issues, deep disagreements between the two candidates, and even a threat to Big Bird’s job security.

Yet despite all the arguing there was much left unsaid by President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney.

 

Pastors to Challenge IRS on Political Endorsements — and They'll Likely Win

LOS ANGELES — In a matter of days, some 1,400 American pastors are planning to break the law.

And they’re likely to get away with it.

As part of “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” on Oct. 7, religious leaders across the country will endorse political candidates — an act that flies in the face of Internal Revenue Service rules about what tax-exempt organizations, such as churches, can and cannot do.

The IRS says tax-exempt organizations, or what they refer to as a 501(c)(3), are prohibited from participating in partisan campaigning for or against political candidates. Yet, despite what’s in the rules, the agency continues to struggle to do anything about those who defy the law.

Though the regulation has been in place since 1954, in 2009, the U.S. District Court of Minnesota ruled the IRS no longer had the appropriate staff to investigate places of worship after a reorganization changed who in the agency had the authority to launch investigations.

New procedures for conducting church audits have been pending since 2009, which has left the IRS virtually impotent in conducting any kind of new investigations. The IRS did not respond to questions seeking comment.

Of Saints and Presidents

St. Francis of Assisi
St. Francis of Assisi

Today is the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi.

You likely have heard of him. Il Poverello. He's the 13th-century aescetic who founded a religious order.

It was, on one hand, a protest order...protesting how the Church had lost its way in relationship to money and helping the poor. It was on the other hand an opportunity for people to come together and do someting rather remarkable in caring for the poor by joining in solidarity with the poor.

The Friars Minor were formed in 1226. St. Clare of Assisi was co-founder. She has her own feast day, of course, but don't lose this opportunity to get to know her as well. 

(There was also an incredibly trippy movie made about his life titled Brother Son, Sister Moon. Some day, when no one is watching, you should rent that film. Outrageously strange.) 

Francis' prayer is well known, but today I want to offer up this quotation which is similar, but presents a different focus. Less a prayer and more a philosophical edict, these words moved me this morning:

“Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance. Where there is patience and humility, there is neither anger nor vexation. Where there is poverty and joy, there is neither greed nor avarice. Where there is peace and meditation, there is neither anxiety nor doubt.”

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