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Florida Catholic Conference donates large chunks of money for anti-gay ballot measure

It hasn’t received much attention, but a last minute petition campaign for a “Marriage Protection Amendment” managed to secure a spot on Florida’s November ballot, sneaking in by the skin of its teeth on Friday. Given that Florida has already enacted a state-wide “Defense of Marriage Act,” one has to wonder why another push is being made by anti-gay organization s and institutions to keep this issue in the minds of voters.

Oh, wait. I know. It’s because conservative religious voters need a reason to go to the polls this November, seeing as how they are pretty unhappy with their choice of potential GOP nominees. So, sure enough, Florida4marr has secured a ballot initiative to ban gay marriage yet again.

Does anyone else feel like they’re reading the back of a shampoo bottle? Rinse. Wash. Repeat. Over and over again, every election cycle.

The specific language of the ballot measure says, “Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”   Sixty percent of Floridians need to vote yes on the amendment in order for it to become law.

Not surprisingly  , the Republican Party of Florida was the largest bank roll for the campaign to get this measure on the ballot. They spent a whopping $300,000 collecting more than 600,000 signatures. But the number two donor? No, not Domino’s Pizza. No, not the Christian Coalition. But the Florida Catholic Conference, which gave nearly $50,000 for the effort. Yes, the same Florida Catholic Conference whose vision statement says they are guided by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of his Church.

Of course, I’m sure if Jesus had $50,000 to burn, he wouldn’t have spent it going after gays and lesbians. You know, not when 15% of children under 18 live under the poverty level in the state. Darn that pesky Jesus and his message of economic populism.

Whether this amendment will bring out conservative voters in the Fall remains to be seen, but the gauntlet has once again been thrown. Ironically, Florida’s GOP Governor, Charlie Crist, has asked the Republican Party to stop spending money on this campaign, saying there are more important issues that warrant the money. Maybe somebody should convey that message to the Florida Catholic Conference, since the teachings of Jesus don’t seem to be doing the trick.

Thankfully, the ballot measure has already drawn organized opposition, in the form of the bipartisan “Florida Red and Blue Committee.” They call this ballot measure “dangerous and disingenuous  ,” and are organizing a drive to educate voters on why the amendment is not only unnecessary, but another example of the government bursting into the doors of citizens’ private lives. Check the Florida Red and Blue Committee out. Friend them on Facebook. Do whatever you can, so that come November 2008, organization s like the Florida Catholic Conference can be sent a message that they should feed the poor, clothe the naked, bless the peacemakers, and be good stewards of the Earth, rather than try to control who loves who. Darn that pesky Bible.

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The Great Perplexity for Catholic Voters

New Hampshire polls close in just a few hours, but in the build-up to today’s primary, Manchester’s Catholic Bishop John B. McCormack gave an insightful quote that hints at the proverbial wall that many Catholics all over the country will be beating their heads against in the struggle to determine how to cast their vote. “Some candidates advance proposals that fail to mirror the commitment of the church to the protection of all human life. In many cases, these same candidates advance other policies and proposals that can be supported in light of church teaching. This frequent mixture of laudable and unacceptable positions causes great perplexity,” said Bishop McCormack.

What’s a Catholic to do when (1) it’s a moral responsibili ty to vote, (2) it’s a moral responsibili ty to vote for the candidate who best espouses the Church’s moral teachings, particularly on respecting life, and (3) no candidate on either side of the political aisle fits into the “perfect” mold of the Church’s moral teachings?

Now that’s a dilemma. Thank God I belong to the United Church of Christ now.

The battle for the Catholic vote will likely rev up in the coming weeks and months, as we get out of primary election mode and into general election hysteria. Who knows what lurks in the hearts (or empty vessels they pretend are hearts!) of political operatives and pollsters this year in terms of nabbing the Catholic vote. One thing is almost for certain: the right is going to argue that Democrats are unsuitable because of issues like abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, and gay marriage. The left is going to argue that Republicans are unsuitable because of issues like poverty, immigration, health care, education, and most importantly, war. Who’s right?

Well, if you look at what the institutiona l Church (i.e. The Catholic Bishops Conference) has said, here’s their take on the number one issue that should inform a Catholic voter’s conscience in 2008 (quoted directly from Faithful Citizenship, released every Presidential Election season by the Bishops):

The right to life and the dignity of the human person.
Human life is sacred. Direct attacks on innocent human beings are never morally acceptable. Within our own society, life is under direct attack from abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, and the destruction of human embryos for research. These intrinsic evils must always be opposed. This teaching also compels us as Catholics to oppose genocide, torture, unjust war, and the unnecessary use of the death penalty, as well as to pursue peace and help overcome poverty, racism, and other conditions that demean human life.

Talk about triangulatio n! Did Mark Penn write this for the bishops?

Whether it’s McCain, Romney, Giuliani or Huckabee who ends up the eventual GOP nominee, clearly they don’t fit the bill given their records on issues like war, the death penalty, and torture (particularl y Romney, who wouldn’t rule out using waterboardin g as an interrogatio n technique). And that’s not a liberal Massachusett s blogger saying this…that’s the institutiona l Catholic Church.

On the Dem side, it gets trickier. Sure, you can argue (like the right will) that Obama and Clinton support abortion rights and support stem cell research, thus Catholics in good conscience shouldn’t vote for them. But when you peel back the layers of these complex issues, particularly abortion, and start to look at which party’s platform might actually lead to a reduction in abortion rates and teen pregnancy rates because of how it handles issues like economic justice, poverty, health care, and education, the waters get much muddier. That’s because Obama’s and Clinton’s principles seem to line up more with the principles of Catholic Social Teaching than, say, a war hawk, someone who wants to jail clergy for feeding illegal immigrants, those who would execute entire populations of prisoners, and those who would condone torture.

So the great perplexity for Catholic Voters, and Bishop McCormack put it, might just be turning away from the rants and raves of Bill Donohue, Phyllis Schlafly, Deal Hudson and others who would sabotage Catholic Social Teaching to fit their own political sympathies, and looking more deeply at the moral teachings of the Church.

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Vote in the common good

One of my favorite political buzzwords from the past few years has become “the common good,” a phrase I’ve seen most used as an umbrella term for the breadth of issues that should inform a person’s conscience when they vote. It’s a great retort to the groups, religions and individuals out there who suggest that only single issues should matter when it comes to casting a socially just vote.

As in 2004, we’ll likely see a push by very misguided Catholic groups to whittle the Catholic vote down to four issues: abortion, gay marriage and gay adoption, stem cell research, and euthanasia. These Catholic groups take these four issues and distort them for the sheer purpose of electing Republicans, while completely ignoring the breadth and depth of Catholic Social Teaching – the social principles that form the foundation of the Catholic faith.

Forty days out of the Iowa caucuses, a group of Catholic organization s have released a “Common Good Voting Pledge,” to draw attention to the wide range of social issues that should inform a Catholic’s conscience as they prepare to vote. The groups – including Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Pax Christi USA, NETWORK, Catholics United, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, and the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas – have one basic, but profound, message: Building a culture of the common good requires us to balance our own self-interes t with a commitment to greater common interest as well.

Two specific issues are highlighted: a commitment to fight poverty, and a commitment to end the war. On fighting poverty, the groups say: 37 million Americans live below the poverty line in the world’s richest country. Half the world nearly three billion people live on less than two dollars a day. These are moral scandals that violate human life and dignity. Poverty is linked to many affronts to human life, including abortion and war. We are called to put our faith into action and care for the poor and most vulnerable.

On ending the war: The Iraq war has lasted more than four years and the number of casualties now exceeds 3800 American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. War disproportio nately affects the poor in society and drains needed resources from vital social programs. Pope John Paul II insisted that “war is always a defeat for humanity.” Pope Benedict XVI believes that it is “right to resist war and its threats of destruction. ” The U.S. bishops have called for a “responsible withdrawal” of troops.

You can sign the pledge by clicking here, or download copies of the pledge for distribution by clicking here.

The more “the common good” frames the discussion of religious voters in the 2008 election, hopefully the less polarized we’ll be as a nation. As Jane Addams once said, “The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”

Now if only that statement were on the daily talking points given each morning to candidates running for President.

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Catholics and pro-choice candidates, 2.0

Proving that he’s not just a one-hit wonder, St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke has issued a public statement saying that he would deny Presidential Candidate Rudy Giuliani Communion if Giuliani were to approach his altar. Archbishop Burke made the same comments about John Kerry in 2004.

Think Burke’s alone in his testiness toward Giuliani? For now. But watch Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln (NE), Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker (OR), Bishop Robert Baker of Charleston (SC), and Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte (NC).   All of these cats — following the lead of Burke — signed a letter in 2004 saying they too would have refused Kerry Communion. You can bet they’ll be jumping at the chance to offer Giuliani the same treatment. (In fact, one might say that if they don’t offer Giuliani the same treatment, you’d have to question whether they were just being partisan in 2004 and trying to pack the pews for Bush and the GOP.)

This is the wrong battle for Bishops to be waging, and my only hope is that some of the more reasonable minds in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) push back on this. The Bishops will meet November 12-15 in Baltimore, MD to issue their document Faithful Citizenship, a set of guidelines and principles issued every four years providing Catholics with the myriad of issues they should be called to focus on.

Make no mistake, there is a large and influential group of Catholics — these bishops perhaps among them — who will again in 2008 try to boil the Catholic vote down to four issues: abortion, gay marriage, stem cells, and euthanasia. THEY ARE WRONG. Every Faithful Citizenship document that has come out since the Bishops began issuing it has NEVER boiled the Catholic vote down to these four issues. Instead, Faithful Citizenship suggests to Catholics that when they enter into the voting booth, they should be thinking about which candidate will bring about an end to the war quicker, which candidate will help alleviate poverty more, which candidate will provide better leadership on health care, which candidate will work with the internationa l community respectfully and move away from a doctrine of preemptive war, which candidate will responsibly and justly address immigration policies, and the myriad of other issues that benefit the common good.

So while I enjoy seeing Giuliani squirm his way around these issues, this debate is bad for everyone. Archbishop Burke, and any other Bishop willing to boil Catholic Social Teaching down to four issues, chips away at the social justice roots of the Catholic Church by playing this Communion game.

And during times like these, those social justice roots are exactly what Catholics should be thinking about when they enter the voting booth — not whether someone is worthy or unworthy of Communion. Indeed, does anyone think that Jesus would refuse bread to someone? If they do, they should probably go back and read the New Testament again.

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A crumbling Christian right?

Another campaign week goes by, and more evidence is emerging that the Christian right is flailing as it heads into 2008.

I wrote last week about a disappointin g gathering in Florida that attracted only 100 or so conservative Christian organizers (not including the plants from Americans United), and the general disorganizat ion of the once supreme Christian right, who are still searching for their Mr. Right four months ahead of Iowa. Need more proof that the Christian right has lost its Christian version of chutzpah?

  • Check out the public tiff this week between former GOP Presidential candidate Gary Bauer (and founder of American Values) and Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, over whether Fred Thompson is religious enough to be President. Dobson went so far as to say that his impression of Thompson was that he wasn’t a Christian, prompting Bauer to fire back that Dobson was hurting the entire Christian movement with his comments. Round one.
  • Just this past weekend, a gathering of influential Christian right leaders gathered in Salt Lake City (Rev. Dobson among them), and let it be known that if a pro-choice candidate heads the Republican ticket (*cough* Giuliani *cough*), they’ll likely back a third-party candidate. Round two.
  • Conservative Catholics, not wanting to miss a beat, have formed a Web site, sagainstrudy .com, to (in their own words…I can’t write stuff as good as this): “empower faithful Catholics at the local level to educate their fellow parishoners about Rudy Giuliani’s abysmal record on non-negotiab le “Culture of Life” issues (e.g., abortion, embryonic stem cell research) and traditional marriage.”   (Note: If I had written that, you can bet that I would have spelled parishioners right!) Round three.
  • And check out the continued stories coming forward – in both secular and religious press – that show Americans more uncomfortabl e voting for someone who is a Mormon (25 percent, according to this article) than voting for a candidate who is Jewish (11 percent), evangelical  (16 percent), or Catholic (7 percent). Sure, this is ignorance at play, but it still has to influence the level of Christian right support that Romney will be able to pick up. Can a Mormon unite a base that really wants an evangelical Christian? It’s hard to say. Round four.

To keep the boxing metaphor running, I don’t think a knockout blow has been delivered to the Christian right. But clearly they are disorganized  , petrified of any of the top-three Democrats, and totally unfocused heading into 2008.

Is it a result of putting all their eggs in one basket with President Bush, while failing to focus on his successor? Is it the result of the death of leaders like Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy, and the falls from grace that folks like Ted Haggard and Ralph Reed have taken?

Or is it that, FINALLY, after years of shoving gay marriage, stem cells and abortion down peoples’ throats, folks are ready for a more spiritually mature movement that focuses on poverty, human rights, the environment, and war, as opposed to wedge issues and rhetoric that just create more division in this country?

That might be the ultimate question, and one that may not be answered until November 2008.

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The Pope and Climate Change

It’s still nearly eight months away, but word is that Pope Benedict XVI will use his first visit to the United Nations to urge a commitment to climate change. Courtesy of The Independent, the address to the UN….

“will act as the centrepiece of a US visit scheduled for next April - the first by Benedict XVI, and the first Papal visit since 1999 - and round off an environmenta l blitz at the Vatican, in which the Pope has personally led moves to emphasize green issues based on the belief that climate change is affecting the poorest people on the planet, and the principle that believers have a duty to “protect creation.”

Earlier this month, the Vatican announced that it would become the first fully carbon-neutr al state in the world. Vatican City will offset its carbon footprint by planting a forest in Hungary, and installing solar panels on the roof of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The Pope, meanwhile, will still likely wear his red prada loafers.

This is all well and good, but one can’t help but be suspicious that the Pope is a-comin’ during an Election year. I’m sure the lean, mean religious right machine is salivating at the photo-op possibilitie s here, and God knows that groups like Priests for Life, the Catholic League and the Eagle Forum will be lobbying the Pope hard to speak out on abortion and gay marriage — with the specific intent of influencing next year’s election. Word has it, in fact, that the Pope is planning to also visit Massachusett s as part of the trek, the only state that legally recognizes gay marriage. Think he’ll say something about gay marriage? (Answer: Is the Pope Catholic?!)

I can’t help but be reminded of President Bush’s visit to the Vatican in early 2004, when he awarded Pope John Paul II a freedom medal, a largely ceremonial gesture that many saw as nothing more than trying to shake the Catholics from the voting trees. It made for a nice photo that appeared on the cover of just about every Catholic newspaper in the United States, and furthered the bogus media talking point that Bush was the preferred candidate of practicing Catholics.

Will Republicans pull the same trick during Benedict’s visit in 2008? I’ll bet my life savings on it. But hell, at least the Pope is throwing us progressives a bone on climate change. That’s probably as good as it gets with this Pontiff, who has already shown his penchant for silencing theologians, marginalizin g gays and lesbians from the church, and suggesting that all other Christian churches are inferior to Roman Catholicism.

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And they call this a rebound?

What do you call 104 Christians hanging out in a Florida trailer?

Apparently the new face of the burgeoning Christian right movement.

Headed into the 2008 election season, Christian conservative s are weary. Their movement has lost iconic leaders and the Republican presidential field is uninspiring. But they may have found hope in a trailer on the campus of Bell Shoals Baptist Church.

Even this weekend’s summit had its disappointme nts. Organizers had hoped up to 350 people would attend, laying the groundwork for a new Florida activist network.

But only 104, nearly all from Florida, had registered by Friday. A workshop on the basics of grassroots activism drew a handful of people — and one was a spy, an activist for Americans United for Separation of Church and State researching the opposition.

“There will be peaks and valleys, but I don’t know if people understand the depth and breadth of our movement,” said Gary Cass, former executive director at Kennedy’s Center for Reclaiming America for Christ, which closed after the South Florida preacher fell ill.

“…I don’t know if people understand the depth and breadth of our movement.” Probably not the most sensible quote to give at a gathering that disappoints by over 200 people, and pretty much includes only people within the Tampa metro-area. That said, and as a senior fellow from the Pew Forum is quoted in the article, the Christian right movement has had its obituary written several times since its inception in the 1970s. And, as luck would have it, Florida conservative s are itching to get an anti-gay marriage amendment on the state’s 2008 ballot, which seems to be a tried and true tactic to drum up Republican votes since before I was legally old enough to cast a ballot. (For those interested, that was 1996. I voted for Clinton, and up until 2002, he was the only person I ever voted for that won. Gov. Ed Rendell broke the losing streak…)

At any rate, it bodes well for Democrats if one of the major talking points emerging (er, thriving?) going into the 2008 elections is that Christians are uninspired by their flock of Republican candidates. State ballot measures attacking gay marriage may bring out the hard-liners, but they’ll never make up for the lack of original ideas and momentum on the GOP side.

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