Sunday, September 24, 2006

Report on the Kansans for Faithful Citizenship, part 1

Here's the first part of the report from the Kansans for Faithful Citizenship conference. More is promised.

Cur, I saw your post alluding to this report. Don't think I'm kidding; I want my $10 reimbursement, here. You should be lucky I'm not billing you for mileage, lunch, and six hours of my life that will never be recovered. You'd better have cash at Mass tomorrow, and don't give me any garbage about protecting your anonymity. And no funny stuff! If you pay me with rolls of pennies, you'll have to find yourself a new correspondent. And don't try to pay me in bumperstickers, either. I'm sending this to Wolftracker, too, just to make sure I get something for my trouble.

Anyways, as planned, I attended the conference of the Kansas Coalition for Faithful Citizenship today. I took a big risk and registered in my own name, and was quickly spotted as a right-wing "mole." It's not like our events where we tend to leave the left-wing moles alone in the back of the room. I did have to explain to a guy that I'm not a neo-con. I'll say more about that later.


The conference started a little after 10am. One of the local organizers, Janet Schlake, read the mission statement, which is to be "a group of people of faith pledged to support candidates and policies which have the common good as their focus." I didn't see or hear anything about Janet Schlake's biography, but do note the buzzword, the "common good," which was repeated throughout the day like a mantra of sorts. A woman named Mara Vanderslice came next. She's has a company called "Common Good Strategies, LLC," which is "a new political consulting firm that helps build bridges and understanding between Democratic elected officials, candidates and state parties and America's diverse religious communities." She was the Kerry-Edwards campaign's Director of Religious Outreach. She appears to be a non-denominational type, and has a resume with lots of liberal political experience (although it became apparent that they much prefer the label "progressive." Although I would guess that the room was mostly older liberal Catholics and mainline protestants (very few young folk), she mentioned Rosh Hashana and the start of Ramadan. She said something about two events that really showed the US to the world: Katrina, which exposed the poverty of New Orleans, and 9/11, which was a squandered opportunity to build bridges (because our political leaders took a "for us or against us" attitude in the aftermath). She also said something about how she saw reasons for hope, as more "progressive" Christian groups like the "Red Letter Christians" and Catholics for the Common Good were forming, and guys like John Danforth were waivering from the "conservative" line. Following Vanderslice, another local organizer, Janelle Lazzo, introduced National Catholic Reporter editor Tom Roberts.

Tom Roberts.

Roberts had an hour-long speech. He read it in less than 30 minutes. It was hard to follow because he talked so quickly, and thus my notes are poor, but here's what I did get:

He started with a discussion of St. Thomas More, quoting heavily on the play A Man for All Seasons, rather than authoritative biographies, and noting that the Vatican's Doctrinal Note on Certain Questions on the Participation of Catholics in Political Life drew on More as well. Roberts suggested that we substitute, for suspicion of More's king, a suspicion of our own religious and political leaders, such as a Bishop who says stem cell research is like genocide, evangelicals preachers who say they intend to retake a state or the nation for Jesus Christ, politicians who speak as if God has given the US a special mandate in the world, and [something else; he was moving too fast].

He made allusion to the moral certainty of the old says, and said that we should all be grateful, in light of the current interest in homosexual marriage, that "one age's moral absolutes become malleable in the next." He complained that religion should not be at the beck and call of politics (which left me wondering why we were all at a hotel conference room on a Saturday morning), and referenced some absurd quotations of the current Holy Father by Congressman Nancy Pelosi (acknowledging their absurdity). He complained that Catholics are too willing compromise their broad agenda for a few narrow issues, and said we must "unchain God from our smallness" and avoid letting the Church get co-opted by politics. He rattled through a substantial list of religious figures that inspired him, of which I only jotted down Mother Teresa, Thomas Merton and Sister Joan Chittister, but because he was moving so fast, I didn't have any notes on why they were relevant to him or how they worked into the speech at this point.

Roberts spoke a little bit next about how pro-lifers were ill-used in the Reagan-Bush era, and moved back to the present to criticize bishops who set forth conditions for voting and try to regulate who comes to the "communion rail." He talked about the pass given to Rick Santorum when he sold out and supported Arlen Specter. He tried to draw a distinction between "church teaching" and "church politics," and complained of those who do nothing other than oppose abortion and not try to fix the social structures that cause it. He said there was more than one way to be a good Catholic, and praised the compromising spirit of Cardinals George and McCarrick and the official USCCB statement which left lots of wiggle room for "progressives." He pointed out that Pope John Paul gave communion directly to pro-aborts, and even non-Catholic Tony Blair.

I'm sorry, at this point, I was hopelessly behind on my note-taking and things got sketchy. Roberts was reading a mile a minute:

He went on to talk about the formation of conscience, and said that while Church teaching was a major factor in forming ones' conscience, there was "no infallible statement on how to vote." He said that the war in Iraq was the one moral issue that we were forced to support with our taxes. He said something about the economic gap. Something about tribal wars. He said the US was 36th in infant mortality (did that count abortions?). He invoked Cardinal McCarrick again. And then he stopped.

My impressions: Roberts' invocation of the USCCB, as "the Bishops," was to become another frequent technique among the speakers in the day. The progressive church bureaucrats and the old-school Bishops running the conference apparatus and presuming to speak in the name of all the Bishops gave them much ammunition, and will certainly give their candidates a good deal more in the coming weeks. It seems to be that the "progressive" strategy will be, today and in the run-up to the election, that instead of running from any religious identity, they'll embrace it, or at least the quotable, non-magisterial politically useful part of it, which the USCCB functionaries have offered up for their exploitation. His comment above, expressing approval and hope for the fact that old moral absolutes become malleable over time today (or I would say, appear to be) doesn't surprise me much—I wouldn't have expected him to make a distinction between the phenomenon of sins becoming fashionable and his dream of a moral world where sins ceasing to be sins.

He did have a point about how pro-lifers were ill-used by the Reaganites; it can be proven in three words: Sandra Day O'Connor. As for the Rick Santorum sellout, I imagine that he will be punished by those he abandoned for Specter. I also expected to hear something about the Bishops who were attempting to do something about the public scandal caused by pro-abortion politicians who were exploiting their Catholic identity, but I laughed out loud at the reference to the "Communion Rail" coming from one of the leaders of the movement which did away with the rail and replaced it with the modern breadlines and lay "Eucharistic Ministers." Of course, no mention was made of the Vatican's (Cardinal Ratzinger's) letter to the USCCB's discussion of the McCarrick report, nor of McCarrick's cover-up of the full text and import of it. There's little to say about his allusion to JP-II's carelessness with regards to communicants, other than to note that such a lack of discretion in governing the Church and his own household, manifested here and elsewhere, shows that whatever his other virtues, JP-II does not merit the rare appellation "the Great." Finally, I took issue with Roberts' suggestion that the War was the one immoral thing we were all required to support with our tax dollars. We all know that's false. Just off the top of my head, involuntarily support obscene and sacrilegious art. We support sex education in schools, too. And in many states, through mandatory coverage laws and insurance policies and prisoner's rights claims, we support contraception and abortions. Anyways, due to the speed with which Roberts spoke, I didn't get enough written down to draw any great insights now, at the distance of several hours' time.

Dr. Robert Harder

The next segment was a panel discussion with Dr. Robert Harder, Sister Jeanne Christiansen, and Bert Braud. It was more like three short, unrelated speeches than any sort of panel discussion, but the first two were interesting, at least. Robert Harder, who worked in several bureaucratic and advisory positions in Topeka and now runs the "Big Tent Coalition" doing "progressive" advocacy on welfare and healthcare issues, and who was to give a "breakout session" on that topic later in the day, gave the one talk that I could agree with 100%. It was fully on target. The talk was titled "A Godless Constitution?" In the 15 minutes he spoke, he answered the (typically evangelical protestant) patriotic assertion that the United States was founded on Christian principles. He went through a host of facts that showed the anti-religious political foundations of the Mayflower Compact (yes, from the Puritains), Thomas Jefferson's efforts to discourage religious belief and practice in Virginia, George Washington's religious non-observance, and the rampant Deism among the other founding fathers. He pointed out that only 10-15% of the colonial settlers were observant. Harder even went so far as to quote someone and insist himself that the country was founded on "reason and enlightenment" rather than on religious principles. That reminds me of Curmudgeon's criticism of the video shown at the beginning of the stem cell rally a couple of weeks ago.

To Harder, I can only say "Amen," and I'll wait until we start talking about what we should do and say in light of our anti-religious foundations before I voice disagreement with you.

Well, it's late, and I'm tired. I think I'll sent this to you in parts, and you can either wait until you get all the parts, or you can post it (if you choose to) as it comes in. Tomorrow I'll write up what Sister Jeanne Christiansen had to say (which was really the most interesting part of the day, in a morbid way), as well as a report on the polling data gathered by the national organization promoting the "common good" rhetoric, the "breakout sessions" and the headliner speech by Gov. Sebelius, as well as some more commentary, such as you may want.

We'll see if my correspondent follows through with part 2. Maybe I'll only give him $5 this week, and hold the rest until he's done.

1 comment:

Jovan-Marya Weismiller, T.O.Carm. said...

By any chance, do I share initials with your correspondent?