Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

R. I. P. Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P.

The famous Dutch Dominican theologian Edward Schillebeeckx (1914-2009) died Tues. 23 December 2009.  The U.S. Jesuit magazine, America, has an excellent obituary here.  I cannot say that Schillebeeck has been a major influence on me.  I struggled through his massive books, Jesus, and Christ and never finished his Church.  But it is clear to me that not just the  Catholic Church, but the entire Body of Christ is poorer today without the witness of Fr. Schillebeeckx, who had been an advisor to the Dutch bishops at Vatican II.

December 26, 2009 Posted by | Obituaries | 1 Comment

R. I. P. Jim McGinnis (1943-2009)

Overlooked in the celebrity deaths this August (Ted Kennedy, author Dominick Dunne, Canadian pacifist Muriel Duckworth), has been the passing of one of the major leaders of American Christian pacifism since the Vietnam era: James B. (“Jim”) McGinnis (1943-2009).  McGinnis was just ordinary American Catholic boy serving in the Indiana National Guard in 1968 when in brief succession, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated and McGinnis’ cousin, a draft resister, was killed in a car crash.  Sensing a call from God, McGinnis applied and received a conscientious objector discharge and began resisting the war and shortly became a convinced pacifist.

Along with his wife, Kathleen, Jim McGinnis founded the Institute for Peace and Justice, the Parenting for Peace and Justice Network, and the Families Against Violence Action Network (FAVAN).  He continued a life of simplicity, peace protest, and teaching and writing resources for peace education.  In 1995, Pax Christi, USA,  the largest Catholic peace network, awarded McGinnis their Teacher of Peace Award.  His books and resources were used by many of us in many traditions.

On 13 August, going out for his usual morning walk, he had a heart attack and died. 

He will be sorely missed by those of us who must continue the work.

August 31, 2009 Posted by | Obituaries, pacifism, peacemaking | Comments Off on R. I. P. Jim McGinnis (1943-2009)

The Legislative Legacy of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) (1932-2009)

Some would say that, like his brothers Jack and Bobby, Ted Kennedy’s real gift was his ability to inspire others.  His detractors, and even some of his admirers, would  say that his legacy must include the way his personal failings helped in the decline of political liberalism. 

But surely a major part of Ted Kennedy’s legacy,  as the 3rd longest serving U.S. Senator, was the legislation he helped pass.  15, 235 votes in the U.S. Senate–seldom missing one until this last year with cancer. 2,500 bills authored.  552 co-sponsored bills passed into law (most with a Republican co-sponsor–Kennedy’s ability to search among his ideological foes and find common ground–even if only on a single issue–was legendary).

Here is a partial list of milestone legislation that Ted Kennedy had a hand in passing.

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Introduced in 1961 by JFK and championed by LBJ, Bobby and Ted Kennedy ushered its passage through the U.S. Senate.)
  • The Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  • The Immigration Reform Act of 1965.
  • The Voting Rights Act Extension of 1970.
  • The Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition Act of 1972. (The WIC program has been called one of the most successful by advocates against hunger and poverty.  Kennedy kept pushing for greater funding so that everyone who qualified could participate, but he was often straining into a headwind which only liked government to spend on military matters.)
  • The Refugee Act of 1980.
  • The Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1982.
  • The Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987.
  • The Immigration Act of 1990.
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1991.
  • The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (Introduced and written by then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), but pushed out of committee by Ted Kennedy.)
  • No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. (This is one law in which Kennedy felt robbed. Last minute changes were made which he felt hurt the final legislation.)
  • Bioterrorism Preparedness Act of 2002. (It is worth noting that Ted Kennedy vocally opposed the invasion of Iraq and refused to vote for its authorization in the U.S. Senate–and was right in all his predictions. This at a time when most of his fellow elected Democrats were afraid of appearing “soft on terrorism” if they didn’t follow Bush off his Iraq cliff like so many lemmings.)
  • Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Act of 2002.
  • Matthew Shephard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007.
  • Civil Rights Act of 2008.

He has called the battle for universal healthcare in this country the “cause of his life.” He did not live to see that cause come to fruition and he later regretted walking away from a Nixon plan in 1974 that was almost identical to the Obama plan, now, public option in competition with private insurers. Kennedy wanted a single payer system that expanded Medicare to cover everyone and thought he could get it–and never realized until much later that the tides were turning in the other direction.  But let us look at the many things he did get accomplished to improve the health or ordinary citizens.

It began shortly after he was elected to the U.S. Senate in a special election to replace his brother, Jack, who vacated the Senate to become U.S. president. A plane crash broke Ted Kennedy’s spine and nearly cost him his life. Because of his wealth, he had fantastic care and physical therapy that led to a nearly full recovery.  But he reflected on what would have been the case, had he been too poor to afford this care.  So, the first thing he did on return to the U.S. Senate was sponsor the creation of a network of free clinics across the U.S.–but he soon realized that this was not enough. (Note: Lack of federal funding has  led most of these to close.)

  • Creation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.
  • Medical Device Amendments of 1976.
  • Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) of 1985–allows workers whose employers provide them with health insurance to temporarily take  that with them if they lose their job or must change jobs.
  • Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
  • The Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act of 1990 (Ryan White CARE Act. Must be renewed or lapse early this September!)
  • National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act of 1993.
  • Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) of 1994 (Made blocking women from entering health clinics where abortions are performed a federal offense.  Abortion opponents can exercise their free speech in opposition, but must not keep women from medical services, including legal abortions.)
  • Health Inurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPA).
  • Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act of 1997.
  • Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) 1997.
  • Healthcare Research and Quality Act of 1999.’
  • Children’s Health Act of 2000.
  • Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education Act of 2001.
  • Project BioShield Act of 2003.
  • Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act of 2005.
  • Family Opportunity Act of 2006.
  • Minority Health and Health Disparities Elimination Act of 2006.
  • FDA Amendments Act of 2007.
  • Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008.

Kennedy also championed things that did not pass–but paved the way for future battles.  For over 30 years he championed the Equal  Rights Amendment–which would finally end gender based discrimination in America.  He championed ending the poll tax in 1964 and lost–but 2 years later the Supreme Court struck down the poll tax as unconstitutional.  He pushed for stronger schools–including a shift away from funding public education primarily through local property taxes since these lead inevitably to rich schools and poor schools. He fought for the civil rights of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered persons.

Though a military veteran from a family of WWII veterans, Ted Kennedy mostly opposed wars, including pushing for lower military budgets, opposing the Vietnam War, both Gulf Wars, American secret support for “hidden wars,” and nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. He opposed Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile defense program as a violation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.  He worked against the militarization of space, seeing it as a betrayal of the space program’s peaceful purposes instituted by his brother, Jack.  He worked for a full employment economy, even running against Pres. Jimmy Carter (D-GA) in 1980 (contributing to Carter’s loss against Reagan) because Kennedy disagreed with Carter’s fiscal conservatism in the face of massive unemployment.  He was a champion of peace in the Middle East and in Northern Ireland, finally living to see that one achieved.  He was a champion of religious liberty and church-state separation.  Invited to debate these matters with Rev. Jerry Falwell  at Falwell’s Liberty University, Kennedy warned against setting precedents for government favoritism in matters of religion since “today’s Moral Majority can easily become tomorrow’s persecuted minority.” He drew the distinction between religious witness to government (which he strongly supported) and the attempt by churches and other religious institutions to use the power of the state to enforce moralities they could not PERSUADE people to adopt themselves.

Yeah. He had his faults.  A binge drinker and long-rumored womanizer, he pled guilty to leaving the scene of  a fatal accident at Chappaquiddick where he had driven his car drunkenly off a bridge and a woman on his staff died in the car.  Many have suspected that he was guilty at least of manslaughter here and the full truth will probably never be known.  I grew up in a region where Ted Kennedy’s challenge to Jimmy Carter in 198o resulted in huge sales of “Teddy for Lifeguard” bumperstickers.  Years later, Kennedy was drunk (and one witness said walking around pantless!) at his Palm Beach, FL vacation home when his nephew was accused  of rape. (The nephew was aquitted and Ted never charged with any crime, but this incident led to a loss of influence for years.)

Shakespeare had Marc Antony say of Julius Caesar, “The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones. So let it be with Caesar.” But I want to plead for the converse for Sen. Ted Kennedy.  May the GOOD he did live on after him and multiply and the evil he did–whatever extent that was in truth–be buried along with him.  Shouldn’t that be a Christian attitude toward all of us mere mortals?

August 30, 2009 Posted by | Obituaries, U.S. politics | 2 Comments

R.I. P. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (1915-2009)

I just learned of the passing of  one of the giants in church history and historical theology, who  also made a gigantic impact on theology through his translations of German works into English.  Geoffrey W. Bromiley (1915-2009) passed away on 07 August 2009.  Bromiley was born in Lancashire, England (U.K.) in 1915.  He earned an M.A. at Cambridge University and a Ph.D., DLitt, and DD from Edinburgh University. Ordained a priest in the Church of England, Bromiley served as a Rector of St. Thomas’ Church, Edinburgh.  In 1958, Bromiley was called to be Professor of Church History  at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA–retiring from that post in 1987. 

Bromiley wrote several volumes of theology, including a one-volume Historical Theology, but his largest impact on theology has to be his translations.  Bromiley translated many of the volumes of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics from German, translated the 10 volumen Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (ed, Gerhard Kittel, etc.), translated all 3 volumes of Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology, as well as works by Helmut Thielicke, Jacques Ellul, and Ernst Kasemann.  Most recently,  Bromiley translated  the 5 volume Encyclopedia of Christianity from the German, completing the 5th volume in 2007 at the age of 92!

Students and colleagues at Fuller Theological Seminary describe Bromiley as combining scholarship with a strong dedication to the Word of God. 

Rest in peace, faithful pilgrim.

August 12, 2009 Posted by | Obituaries | 7 Comments

Baptist Peacemaker Robert Broome Dies: R.I.P.

Robert Broome of Louisville, KY, a Baptist layperson and pioneer peacemaker died on 11 July ’09 while visiting family in Asheville, NC, ending a long battle with cancer.  Broome, 66, was a member of Deer Park Baptist Church and instrumental in launching The Baptist Peacemaker (now in its 29th year of publication) and in getting Deer Park BC to host the historic meeting in 1984 where scattered Southern Baptist peace activists met with leaders of the (American) Baptist Peace Fellowship and out of that conference forged the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America.

July 16, 2009 Posted by | Baptists, Obituaries | Comments Off on Baptist Peacemaker Robert Broome Dies: R.I.P.

Dr. Lillian Lim Dies

1_large_limDr. Lillian Lim, first woman to be president of the Asia Baptist Graduate Theological Seminary,  died of Marzan’s disease. I am grieving since I knew Lillian from our Ph.D. days.

Here is the link to the APB story: http://www.facebook.com/ext/share.php?sid=93461321667&h=4QOLF&u=nL_Nb&ref=nf

June 27, 2009 Posted by | Obituaries | 2 Comments

R.I.P. Jack Kemp

Former Republican Congressman Jack Kemp has died of cancer.  Although I disagreed with some of his most (in) famous ideas, such as a flat income tax!, I always liked Kemp. He was one of the last of the dying breed of moderate Republicans.  Also, he was a hellova Quarterback for the San Diego Chargers back in the day.  Kemp, who was Bob Dole’s running mate in ’96, was never a rightwing ideologue.  He worked for racial justice.  He worked to get more low cost housing for the poor and his was the idea of “empowerment zones” for business in poor and minority neighborhoods to help alleviate poverty–an idea that worked, at least in part.

He ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for president in ’88, losing to VP George H. W. Bush. (He would have made a better president.) Many expected Bush I to name him as VP and were shocked when he went with frosh Sen. from Indiana (and mental lightweight) Dan Quayle! (Only years later do we realize that Quayle reminded Bush I of his eldest son!)

Even though he voted and rooted for John McCain, Kemp wrote an open letter to his grandchildren on why the election of Barack Obama was good news for the nation.  That letter highlighted our horrible history of racism and noted that 40 years ago, few African-Americans could even vote, never mind aspire to the highest office in the land.

Although he was one of the architects of “Reagonomics” who argued strongly for “supply-side” tax cuts as an engine for economic growth, he knew that our current economic crisis  could not be solved by such a strategy alone.  He urged that Congress and president combine such a strategy with FDR style Keynesian economics. Kemp knew that Keynesian economics is the only way to get out of a deep recession.  As a conservative, this rubbed him the wrong way. But he was a realist.

In short, Kemp was one of the dwindling number of Republican leaders who had integrity and who was not captured by a far right ideology.  On some issues, especially racial justice, he was definitely one of the good guys.  I shall miss him and especially his breed of Republican.

May 3, 2009 Posted by | Obituaries | 3 Comments

Baptist Historian Robert Handy Dies

Robert T. Handy (1918-2009) has died in his NJ retirement community at age 90.  An American Baptist historian, Handy taught at Union Theological Seminary in NY (an ecumenical seminary) from 1950 until retirement in 1986.  A prolific author, Handy was known for his writings on Baptist history and the history of Christianity in North America, as well defending church-state separation and debunking popular myths of a bygone era of “Christian America.”

Handy was a graduate of Brown University (B.A.), still a Baptist-related institution at the time, with a degree in European history.  He earned his Bachelor of Divinity (B.D.) degree from Colgate-Rochester Divinity School, was ordained and served Baptist churches in Illinois. After a stint as a chaplain in the U.S. army,  he earned a Ph.D. in Church History at the University of Chicago (also then still related to American Baptists, though already an ecumenical institution).

Handy was a primary example for how to be true to one’s own tradition while also being very ecumenical.  He was a firm champion of religious liberty, church-state separation, and liberty of conscience.  For these reasons, although his personal theology was fairly traditional, he was often a target of the theocrats and Christian nationalists. (Sometimes the best compliment is to have the right enemies.)

Rest in peace, servant of a Servant Lord.

January 15, 2009 Posted by | Baptists, church history, church-state separation, Obituaries, religious liberty | 1 Comment

Passing of Richard John Neuhaus

Former conservative Lutheran minister turned conservative Catholic priest, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, has died.  Neuhaus’ book, The Naked Public Square, was the major ammunition of the Religious Right’s claim that church-state separation amounts to the marginalization (or even “persecution”) of Christians.  Not surprisingly, Bruce Prescott, champion of religious liberty and church-state separation, has a different reaction to this news than the conservative Catholic journal First Things

I am somewhere in the middle. While I share Bruce’s opinions about both the Theocons (theocratic conservatives) and Christian Nationalists (Neuhaus was more in this group) and the way they used Neuhaus’ book to claim that all attempts to defend religious pluralism and to prevent creeping religious establishmentarianism (de jure or de facto) were, instead, attempts to silence religious voices in public affairs, I did appreciate the tone and nuance of Neuhaus. You could debate him and dialogue with him. He was of a different character than the shrill voices of intolerance who used his book to advance their extremism–and he actually became more reasonable after his conversion to Catholicism.  Nonetheless, I hope that Fr. Neuhaus’ passing is also the passing of an era–and one I won’t miss.

I hope that even in U.S. Catholicism we see a return to defense of religious liberty for all and church-state separation–Catholic voices like that of the late Fr. John Courtney Murray, S.J.

January 8, 2009 Posted by | church-state separation, Obituaries, progressive faith, religious liberty | 4 Comments

R.I.P. Claiborne Pell

As reported here, former Rhode Island Sen. Claiborne Pell died on New Year’s day (Thurs).  Thanks to Pell, I and many others in the U.S. got to go to college.  Claiborne Pell initiated the legislation that resulted in the “Pell Grants”–government aid (not loans) to university students based on economic need. (I know that most other industrial democracies are flabbergasted at the way the U.S. does NOT invest in its college/university students. In most of Europe, the standards for admission are higher than in the U.S., but if you make it in, the govt. pays for most or all of your university education–in many countries, students even receive stipends for food and housing! Is it any wonder the U.S. keeps having to import brains from elsewhere? Our lack of investment here will be our economic undoing in years to come.)

Pell also chaired the Foreign Relations Committee and was appointed U.S. delegate to the UN when he retired from the Senate in ’97.  Other Pell landmarks included the legislation creating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. His passions were education, arts, humanities and a foreign policy based on diplomacy rather than force.

Rest in peace, senator and may God raise up more public servants of your caliber.  I was the first generation of my family to go to university–and it would never have happened without Claiborne Pell.

January 2, 2009 Posted by | Obituaries | Comments Off on R.I.P. Claiborne Pell