Category Archives: Justice Issues

Letter to the Editor: June 12, 2015

Fr. Matthew — Thank you for a more reasoned response to Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out and the current conversation around trans* identities than I have seen on many Catholic sites. Your insight that there may be trans* people in our faith communities where we minister, especially youth who are more vulnerable, is nearly absent from non-progressive Catholic spaces.

That said, I have to contest your proposition that gender transitions come from psychological hurt. I work closely with the LGBT Catholic community and have come to understand that these transitions, or simply presenting as one’s authentic gender identity, are holy paths and part of trans* folks road to saintliness. It is one of the processes by which they become their truest self, the person to which God is calling them to become. I recently wrote about this in a blog post and would add my invitation in the post to you if you’d like to learn more about gender identity:

Caitlyn Jenner and other trans* people have prompted a graced moment for all of us to learn more about gender identity and, for ministers, the particular pastoral care implications that trans* folks provide — and the gifts they offer our faith communities! Let us all pray we may grow in love as we seek greater understanding.


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Morning Prayer: January 15, 2015

I don’t have much time to blog here, as I’m writing regularly on Catholic LGBT issues at Bondings 2.0, the blog of New Ways Ministry. However, I’m starting a ‘Morning Prayer’ series of excerpts, articles, stories, images, etc. which inspire prayer through my engagement with them. These will be the moments where I’m praying with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other as Karl Barth is rumored to have said. As these are spontaneous, the series will be occasional and act primarily as an archive. I may not comment at all, but where I do it will be limited. I share with the hope others may pray through these items with me and our world.

From The Guardian’s series of pieces on the Guantánamo Diary…may God have mercy on these victims of US torture and abuse, on those who tortured who are themselves victims of US militarism, and on our nation for all this to happen and continue.

Guantánamo Diary: ‘The torture squad was so well trained that they were performing almost perfect crimes’

I started to recite the Koran quietly, for prayer was forbidden. Once ________ said, “Why don’t you pray? Go ahead and pray!” I was like, How friendly! But as soon as I started to pray, ____ started to make fun of my religion, and so I settled for praying in my heart so I didn’t give ____ the opportunity to commit blasphemy. Making fun of somebody else’s religion is one of the most barbaric acts. President Bush described his holy war against the so-called terrorism as a war between the civilized and barbaric world. But his government committed more barbaric acts than the terrorists themselves. I can name tons of war crimes that Bush’s government is involved in.

This particular day was one of the roughest days in my inter- rogation before the day around the end of August that was my “Birthday Party” as _______ called it. _______ brought someone who was apparently a Marine; he wore a ________.

_______ offered me a metal chair. “I told you, I’m gonna bring some people to help me interrogate you,” _______ said, sitting inches away in front of me. The guest sat almost sticking on my knee. _______ started to ask me some questions I don’t remember.

“Yes or no?” the guest shouted, loud beyond belief, in a show to scare me, and maybe to impress _______, who knows? I found his method very childish and silly.

I looked at him, smiled, and said, “Neither!” The guest threw the chair from beneath me violently. I fell on the chains. Oh, it hurt.

“Stand up, motherfucker,” they both shouted, almost synchronous. Then a session of torture and humiliation started. They started to ask me the questions again after they made me stand up, but it was too late, because I told them a million times, “Whenever you start to torture me, I’m not gonna say a single word.” And that was always accurate; for the rest of the day, they exclusively talked.

_______ turned the air conditioner all the way down to bring me to freezing. This method had been practiced in the camp at least since August 2002. I had seen people who were exposed to the frozen room day after day; by then, the list was long. The consequences of the cold room are devastating, such as ______tism, but they show up only at a later age because it takes time until they work their way through the bones. The torture squad was so well trained that they were performing almost perfect crimes, avoiding leaving any obvious evidence. Nothing was left to chance. They hit in predefined places. They practiced horrible methods, the aftermath of which would only manifest later. The interrogators turned the A/C all the way down trying to reach 0°, but obviously air conditioners are not designed to kill, so in the well insulated room the A/C fought its way to 49°F, which, if you are interested in math like me, is 9.4°C—in other words, very, very cold, especially for some- body who had to stay in it more than twelve hours, had no underwear and just a very thin uniform, and who comes from a hot country. Somebody from Saudi Arabia cannot take as much cold as somebody from Sweden; and vice versa, when it comes to hot weather. Interrogators took these factors in con- sideration and used them effectively.

You may ask, Where were the interrogators after installing the detainee in the frozen room? Actually, it’s a good question. First, the interrogators didn’t stay in the room; they would just come for the humiliation, degradation, discouragement, or other factor of torture, and after that they left the room and went to the monitoring room next door. Second, interrogators were adequately dressed; for instance ______ was dressed like somebody entering a meat locker. In spite of that, they didn’t stay long with the detainee. Third, there’s a big psychological difference when you are exposed to a cold place for purpose of torture, and when you just go there for fun and a challenge. And lastly, the interrogators kept moving in the room, which meant blood circulation, which meant keeping themselves warm while the detainee was _________ the whole time to the floor, standing for the most part. All I could do was move my feet and rub my hands. But the Marine guy stopped me from rubbing my hands by ordering a special chain that shackled my hands on my opposite hips. When I get nervous I always start to rub my hands together and write on my body, and that drove my interrogators crazy.

“What are you writing?” ___________ shouted. “Either you tell me or you stop the fuck doing that.” But I couldn’t stop; it was unintentional. The Marine guy started to throw chairs around, hit me with his forehead, and describe me with all kinds of adjectives I didn’t deserve, for no reason.

“You joined the wrong team, boy. You fought for a lost cause,” he said, alongside a bunch of trash talk degrading my family, my religion, and myself, not to mention all kinds of threats against my family to pay for “my crimes,” which goes against any common sense.

I knew that he had no power, butI knew that he was speaking on behalf of the most powerful country in the world, and obviously enjoyed the full support of his government. However, I would rather save you, Dear Reader, from quoting his garbage. The guy was nuts. He asked me about things I have no clue about, and names I never heard.

“I have been in __________,” he said, “and do you know who was our host? The President! We had a good time in the palace.” The Marine guy asked questions and answered them himself.*Larry Siems: how the manuscript became a book

When the man failed to impress me with all the talk and humiliation, and with the threat to arrest my family since the ______________ was an obedient servant of the U.S., he started to hurt me more. He brought ice-cold water and soaked me all over my body, with my clothes still on me. It was so awful; I kept shaking like a Parkinson’s patient. Technically I wasn’t able to talk anymore. The guy was stupid: he was literally executing me but in a slow way. _______ gestured to him to stop pouring water on me. Another detainee had told me a “good” interrogator suggested he eat in order to reduce the pain, but I refused to eat anything; I couldn’t open my mouth anyway.

The guy was very hot when _______ stopped him because ____ was afraid of the paperwork that would result in case of my death. So he found another technique, namely he brought a CD player with a booster and started to play some rap music. I didn’t really mind the music because it made me forget my pain. Actually, the music was a blessing in disguise; I was trying to make sense of the words. All I understood was that the music was about love. Can you believe it? Love! All I had experienced lately was hatred, or the consequences thereof.

“Listen to that, Motherfucker!” said the guest, while closing the door violently behind him. “You’re gonna get the same shit day after day, and guess what? It’s getting worse. What you’re seeing is only the beginning,” said _______. I kept praying and ignoring what they were doing.

“Oh, ALLAH help me…..Oh Allah have mercy on me” ____ kept mimicking my prayers, “ALLAH, ALLAH…. There is no Allah. He let you down!” I smiled at how ignorant ____ was, talking about the Lord like that. But the Lord is very patient, and doesn’t need to rush to punishment, because there is no escaping him.

Redactions marked in the text were made by the US government when Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s diary was cleared for public release

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Filed under Guantanamo & Torture, Morning Prayer

Jesus Wanders Wall Street

DSC_0191I’ve recently begun the book Jesus: A Historical Approximation by Spanish priest Jose Pagola. In it, Pagola examines Jesus’ life through different lenses, starting with “A Galilean Jew.” This first chapter lays out the Galilean context in which Jesus grew up and ministered. When read in light of my contemporary world, there are striking comparisons to be drawn between 1st century Galilee and 21st century America.

In 1st century Galilee, nearly 90% of people were peasants farming the incredibly fertile lands or fishing in the Sea nearby. Land ownership in such an agrarian society is the central question, and in Galilee most belonged to wealthy landowners. Pagola describes further:

“These large landerowners usually lived in the cities, rented out their lands to peasants in the area, and supervised them through administrators acting in their name. The leases were almost always very burdensome for the peasants. The owner demanded half or a significant portion of their production, which varied according to the results of the harvest…There are signs that in Jesus’ time, these large landowners were expanding their hldings with new lands from debt-ridden families, and coming to control a good part of Lower Galilee.”

Those farmers who owned their land desperately defended it. Indigent day laborers wandering for work became common. The producing majority provided for the ruling minority, with less and less in return to meet their own family’s needs. Through tributes, taxes, fees, and corruption hefty portions of any harvest disappeared to Rome, Jerusalem, and regional capitals — between a third and half of a given family’s production.

Debt loomed large as an inevitable result of even the most aggressive defenses against such collections, including a turn to monoculture for the most profitable crops. Pagola writes that “The Galilee Jesus knew was trapped in debt.” Losing one’s land meant losing a means of income, and many people turned to itinerancy, slavery, begging, and prostitution, or crime, which all rose in Jesus’ time.

The hallmark of Jesus’ Galilee was this massive (and growing) inequality between the peasants and the urban elite, composed of civil, economic, and religious leaders made rich by a brutal combination of exploiting the poor and violent oppression. Two new cities appeared in Galilee further straining the peasants as elites grew their wealth and prestige by appropriating more and more of the surrounding harvests. Courts ruled for the elites routinely when land foreclosures increased.

Pagola notes of all this that “…this economic organization did not promote the common good of the country, but favored the growing well-being of the elites.”

You can see how Jesus ministered in a Galilean context similar to America today: economic inequality grows due to unjust policies set out by a ruling elite with little regard for the common good.

While not an agrarian society, recent decades have seen an increase in worker productivity for America’s industries not met with a commensurate rise in income. Wages remain stagnant, salaries low, and purchasing power dropping. Predatory lending and unaffordable higher education that is necessary for careers today has led to exorbitant debt for most Americans. Home foreclosures are similar to the land confiscations of Galilee, casting families into itinerancy and instability. Job losses and unemployment from an economy serving profit and not the common good compound all this.

Yet, for the top earners in America there are few problems. They have benefited from the economic system which favors unbelievable profits from risky investment practices while denying mothers the most basic food assistance for their hungry children.

What Pagola wrote of early 1st century Galilee, that”…this economic organization did not promote the common good of the country, but favored the growing well-being of the elites” is similarly true of America today.

This is why Jesus message can be so powerfully proclaimed today: his ministry condemns the same excess and trends, while holding up the same people who have been marginalized and cast out. I find it helpful to quote Pagola at length here:

“Jesus’ activity in the Galilean villages and his message of the reign of God amounted to a strong critique of this state of affairs. His firm defense of the indigent and hungry, his preferential embrace of the least in that society, and his condemnation of the sumptuous life of the urban rich, were a public challenge to the socio-political program of Antipas [the ruler of Galilee]…his calls to have compassion on those who suffer and forgive their debts; and many other sayings can help us understand even today how Jesus shared the suffering of his people and how passionately he sought a new, more just and loving, world in which God would reign as Father of all.”

Having just returned from the Holy Land, the beauty of the Galilee is fresh in my mind. It is a land of unparalleled vegetation where Scriptures words of ‘a land of milk and honey’ comes vividly to life. Yet, when I meditated on all of this after reading Pagola’s chapter what came to mind was Jesus ministering in America. There is the Son of God walking down Wall Street casting out the investment bankers and perusing Congress’ halls  questioning why Republicans cut food stamps. There is Jesus healing the many homeless people I pass by while walking through DC and railing outside the Treasury building against anti-Gospel policies.

Why do we make the message so distant, as if 1st century Galilee and 21st century America are more different than they are similar. Sure, 2,000 years and host of cultural nuances separate my world from Jesus’ world — but the humanity in it all remains a constant thread. The inclination to narcissism and greed, apathy and indifference, fear and isolationism.

Most pointedly in the meditation, there is Jesus sitting across the table from me, staring as he asks why I continue to obfuscate Scripture’s message to justify my own unjust excesses.


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Mental Health Isn’t Why We Have Shootings

I tire of a particular argument that has emerged when gun violence happens: if we can’t act on guns, let’s focus on mental health. Once again, those of us with mental illness are appropriated for society’s catharsis — except this time, mental health advocacy groups like the National Alliance for Mental Illness have taken the bait.

How does this myth even emerge?

Pinning mental illness to those who commit mass shootings and other horrific crimes is commonplace in the US today. The stigma surrounding bipolar disorder and other ills remains extremely high, and it assuages communal fears that only a ‘crazy’ person would kill innocent shoppers or gun down a classroom of first graders. It isn’t our neighbor or co-worker (or ourselves) because they’re not mentally ill; they’re ‘normal,’ ignoring the reality that so many are or will at some point struggle with their mental health. You can see why mental illness is so readily tied to gun violence by the media, society, politicians, you name it.

And yet, the problem remains the guns.

These deadly weapons allow a single person to take out that classroom of first graders or the moviegoers or the innocent bystander or the police officer or the…or the…or the… Without the guns, the lethal capacity of an individual is greatly reduced. Sure there are other deadly weapons we hear pro-gun people say, but it’s much harder to create as much carnage in so short a time as these shootings happen with knife or baseball bat. Admittedly, some who commit violent acts have histories of mental illness, but acting upon their illness in destructive manners again becomes much harder without free-flowing weapons floating about.

Addressing mental health in the gun violence debate is merely ducking the real issue. It shouldn’t take mass murder for our society to provide affordable, accessible, high-quality psychiatric and therapeutic care for those, like myself, suffering from mental illness. That should be a reality already, gun violence or not.

So, if we’re going to address the epidemic of gun violence, let’s address the problem: guns. It’s not video games or a violent culture, it’s not mental health support or unsecured schools (what a term in the first place). These are aggravating factors, but they’re not the problem. It is guns and until we fix the gun violence issue in America, 30 or so people will be killed each and every day.

Do we really want to keep talking about mental health and all these other tangential side notes until it is our loved one or ourself gunned down while we simply go about our lives?


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Filed under Gun Control, Mental Health, Uncategorized

When Gun Violence is the Standard

September 11, 2001: 19 terrorists kill 3,000 people triggering the ‘War on Terror’ with multi-trillion dollar wars leading to more than a million deaths, mass government re-organization, the use of torture and drones, and inane civil liberties curtailments and outright racist policies enshrined into law to defend against terrorism.

Today: Guns kill Americans in droves, day in and day out like the sun rises each morning. Terror is ever present for too many in simple acts of going to school, enjoying a movie, or just walking a city street. Trauma lingers for the thousands left wounded and without loved ones; these are lifelong scars. There’s been no response besides empty expressions of sadness. Everyone prays, but few move their feet to stop the hemorrhaging of our fellow human beings at the hands of these terrorists: those wielding guns.

Yet, even universal background checks or limiting the sale of military-grade weapons is too much for those who worship not God, but the holy Gun. Those who support gun rights without restriction make daily offerings to the Gun on the altar of the misunderstood, and deliberately misrepresented, Second Amendment. They want Americans to accept that gun violence is standard and the cost of ‘freedom,’ but what is freedom when thousands of children won’t live to graduate school and grow into adulthood.

Today’s shooting at the Columbia Mall in Howard County, Maryland keeps up America’s streak for 2014; a half-dozen school shootings so far and gun violence everywhere else we work and live. 30,000+ people are victims of gun violence every year, repeating the September 11th terrorist attacks ten times annually ad infinitum until something changes.

To be clear, September 11th was an awful day and one which demanded a response, even if we can’t all agree on how best to respond. Why though, does this true terrorism of gun violence at foot in America persist unimpeded by even the simplest efforts to stop 30,000+ deaths each year?


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Let’s Talk About Tactics…

Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 11.45.30 AM

One of more than 50 tweets I received…

Yesterday’s March for Life was the sixth that I’ve been present for, though not always on the National Mall. Attending The Catholic University of America, my college campus was overtaken each year around this time by tour buses in the dozens and school groups in the thousands. I’ve wondered down to the Mall a few times to see what happens at the March, to dialogue with participants, and to earnestly find common ground with them — which wouldn’t seem so hard, given we both oppose abortion.

And yet…

Each year, as the March for Life winds down I am left with a bitter feeling about what has happened and whether this is really something which stands for life. The messages are clear, and there’s always an abundance of signage and literature littered on the Mall in the aftermath if it wasn’t for you. However, the tactics don’t seem consistent with respecting human dignity — and I’m not even talking about those graphic depictions of aborted children.

As I see it, abortion is a wildly complex issue, or rather serious of interconnected issues, and there’s widespread agreement among Americans more than we concede. The movement, both anti-abortion and pro-choice, are led by the radicals on each side — and the rest of us are left somewhere mixed in. Yet, it is those most radical who set the tone and receive media attention and it is those who damage the cause of ending abortion and standing for life.

Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 10.13.34 PM

Called heretical for suggesting that anti-abortion movement had a history of violence it did not adequately address…

I highlight one incident from last night, which is more typical than I want to admit, of interactions I’ve had online and in person with those participating in anti-abortion efforts. I readily admit, I began the interaction with one of the participants by tweeting at them; I commented that suggesting pro-choice activists had killed anti-abortion ones was extreme. I stand by that.

In response, I received a barrage of ad hominem tweets, accusations that I was lying, and an unwillingness to engage civilly — and this was with someone with whom they agreed on abortion! The anti-abortion community needs to stop assailing those with whom it does not agree and question whether its tactics are consistent with its message because, in far too many, but not all, instances these two just don’t coincide.


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Filed under Abortion, Uncategorized

Learning True Prayer

Driving along to lunch with a friend, I turned to C-SPAN radio as I drove south on the Beltway. Their broadcast of live floor debate from the House closely resembled some of the more unruly Model UN conferences I attended in high school.

Moderating this debate was a fatiguing task for the chairwoman, who quickly called successive representatives out of order, then yielding, more disorderly conduct, yielding again, outright shouting. Gaveling down unanimous consent requests, the situation devolved into a chaotic banter.

Disheartened, I listened on as our elected officials in the House held a nation captive in their petulance guised as ‘politicking’ and bickering passed off as floor debate. Suddenly, the chairwomen gaveled this buzz into recess. The airwaves silenced and I assumed the House simply shuttered itself to regain composure. A beat passed.

Then the C-SPAN announcer reported shots fired at the US Capitol building. Driving along I glanced to the right and saw the Capitol’s dome rising above a large office complex closer to me. I was far enough away to drive along unaffected, but close enough to begin tearing up at the violence ravaging this city.

Obvious examples like today’s incident when the ‘pop, pop, pop’ sounds were reported or the Navy Yard shooting only weeks ago come to mind, as do the ravages of gun violence in our communities that more frequently take lives by homicide and suicide.

Less obvious is the culture of DC filled with the violence of words and dehumanization that leads a Tea Party-backed Congressman to attack a Park Ranger for enforcing the shutdown he caused. It is a town fueled by a currency of profit and power over people’s lives when we literally allow people in the US to die daily because spending “must” be cut.

Minor partisan gains, or even simply ego, is hoisted as the god we worship in the District while we allow millions to go unfed, unclothed, uncared for, and unloved day after day after each fucking day. The dozens of homeless and marginalized individuals only yards from the offices and chambers of those who are leaders in name only cannot stir the consciences of politicians long ago purchased with corporate donations.

Perhaps almost six years trying to act justly and love tenderly in DC leaves my cynical and frustrated, but…

Is it really too fantastical to believe all would be welcomed with wide arms and open hearts? That all would be given their ‘daily bread,’ such that poverty’s afflictions were no more? That love is abundant enough our world could place the person first before all else, ending alienation from and enmity towards one another?

Lately, I’m unsure how to respond, how to act in changing DC’s violent dynamic – but in that, I’m learning true prayer. Driving along the Beltway to dinner, I can only tear up and offer God simple, visceral prayers. They’re not the polished prayers I’ve learned in theology nor crafted for ministry, and all they say is this:

We need Christ’s reconciling love.


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Filed under Nonviolence & Peacemaking, Spirituality

Responding to Syria in the Spirit of Loretto

Statue at the Loretto Motherhouse, part of the Seven Sorrows of Mary brought over in the 19th century

Statue at the Loretto Motherhouse, part of the Seven Sorrows of Mary brought over in the 19th century

Chemical weapons. Napalm bombs. School children slaughtered. 100,000 dead. Violence in a most raw way pierces our otherwise sanitized media reporting and shakes world consciences as collectively we ask, “How did this happen, again?”

Talking with a close friend in the anti-mass atrocities community, he has repeated these past months that no one in government, no one in nonprofits, no one anywhere knows how to respond. All the writing, scholarship, plans, programs, funding, and political will conjured up by those who cried, “Never Again!” after the Holocaust, Cambodia, Rwanda, Serbia, Darfur…the litany is unending, and all this is for nothing. The Syrian regime and the Syrian rebels persistently assail life without true challenge.

We simply cannot think up, never mind agree on, a viable solution to end the killings and begin a path to peace. This war and violence a world away brings spiritual turmoil in my deepest recesses. I am terrified with my personal inaction, with America’s apathy for three years, with a world paralyzed in the face of evil incarnated in massacres and gas attacks. What to do? It seems simple to affirm military intervention because it is something, rather than nothing. I know that it won’t lead to peace though, only greater destruction. The haunting question, “How to promote peace and nonviolence in Syria?” remains.

For guidance, I turned to the Sisters of Loretto. First called the “Friends of Mary at the Foot of the Cross,” compassion is an enduring trait of this religious community who have been present on margins of all types. The word “compassion” is rooted in the Latin for “co-suffering” or “suffering with,” and this is precisely what so many Loretto sisters and co-members have offered to the world for two centuries. Educating ourselves is a first step, but we must follow by entering into others’ suffering through prayer and spiritual companionship. This is how we can be like Mary at Christ’s Cross, unable to cease his pain or to prevent his death, but radically present as he endures suffering. It is what I hope to offer to the people of Syria in my prayers.

Yet, Loretto members would fault me for ending there. Prayer has implications  that lead us to work for justice and act for peace, and the African proverb “When you pray, move your feet” is one lived out by these sisters and co-members. Coupling compassion with practical plans to seek change is not optional. But how to act when Syria is oceans away and my limited voice cannot change the course of an Obama administration bent on making war? Again, I look at the Loretto Community for guidance.

Many sisters are now retired (technically, because nuns never stop witnessing to God’s love) at the Motherhouse in Kentucky, leaving behind  careers and communities that altered our world for good. New circumstances have not stopped them from living peaceful witness, building up sustainable lifestyles, speaking out for justice (see their campaign against the Bluegrass Pipeline). These sisters educate me deeply in how we can live at the foot of others’ crosses even from a distance. Instead of focusing on my own impotence regarding Syria, I must focus on what I can do in this moment, this day, this weekend to create a peaceful planet.

Here’s what I conclude from all of this. Tonight, as I follow reports on Syria and keep pestering government leaders to walk us back from war, I will continue with my weekend plans. I will switch over from chemical cleaning products to homemade green ones. I will build up relationships with some new friends over dinner. I will join other Catholics at Mass on Sunday and pray, pray, pray in every moment. I will celebrate past labor victories this weekend, present of how much work remains. I will act for justice and work for peace where possible, and where I cannot I will sit like Mary, like the Loretto Community, at the foot of the Syrian people’s crosses in prayerful, present witness.

It is not a perfect fix, nor a solution to Syria (or the larger problem of mass atrocities and political violence), but it is what I can offer in this moment. I welcome your thoughts, criticisms, and  suggestions on how we respond to suffering when we cannot directly alleviate it or work to combat injustice.



Filed under Nonviolence & Peacemaking, Spirituality, Uncategorized

Antoinette Tuff’s Lessons in Nonviolence

Antoinette Tuff

“But what about Hitler…” Anyone arguing for nonviolence is probably confronted with the ‘Nazi problem’ by those who insist violence is a necessary evil or even a good for our world. How else could the treacheries of the Nazi’s have ceased without a massive war, so the argument goes and thus nonviolence is debunked. Case closed.

“But what about Tuff…” I would respond. Antoinette Tuff is the Georgia women who prevented untold deaths in an Atlanta school  using nonviolence, and her witness informs the conversation far more than arguing stale historical points. Most of us will never find ourselves talking down an armed person. Still Antoinette Tuff can teach us about daily being a nonviolent person of faith. Nonviolence demands (at least) three things from its practitioners: vulnerability, hope, and an openness to the Spirit.

Vulnerability – Antoinette’s first lesson is that in encountering others, we must make ourselves vulnerable. Antoinette exemplifies Henri Nouwen’s “Wounded Healer,” wherein we must access our own current wounds as we minister to others. Nouwen writes:

“…none of us can help anyone without becoming involved, without entering with our whole person into the painful situation, without taking the risk of becoming hurt, wounded, or even destroyed in the process…[we must] make one’s own painful and joyful experiences available as sources of clarification and understanding.”

The armed man is upset and struggling with his mental health. Antoinette exposes her wounds to connect with the man over his, mentioning that her husband left her after 33 years and she has a disabled son. She risks further pain and death in entering this relationship, but Antoinette’s initial vulnerability allows the de-escalation that follows.

Hope – It is cliche, but bears repeating that nonviolence is not an acquiescence to evil. Vulnerability is complemented by an unshakeable conviction that alternatives exist and life is a good, which I would call hope. Face to face with a gun, Antoinette refuses to accept that this man must kill children and then himself, as America witnesses all too often. She offers her own suicide attempt as an example that though “we all go through something in life, ” life improves. Fate for this man is not sealed; a less violent ending to this scenario exists and a brighter future for him is still possible. Never does Antoinette concede to fatalism in this most deadly of scenarios, but endures in talking, building a relationship, and figuring out a solution with the police.

Openness to the Spirit – In an interview on CNN, Antoinette Tuff explains she never should have been at the school’s front desk when the armed man entered. She received devastating news moments before, which caused her to linger a bit longer at the desk. Antoinette attributes all this as a movement of God, who called on her then to set aside personal struggles and encounter the armed man. She was ready to answer ‘Yes’ to God’s will without notice or preparation. Trusting the Spirit would work through her in God’s way of peace, rather than responding to violence with violence, allowed Antoinette to save many lives.

Nonviolence demands much more from practitioners (which should be all of us!), such as bodily presence (Antoinette offered herself as a human shield at one point) and the cultivation of inner peace (which I cannot comment on other than she remained calm the entire time). Nonviolence is not about stopping the Nazis for most of us, but about responding to the smaller acts of violence in language and in action we confront daily.

It is time for Catholics to seriously affirm nonviolence as a way of living, not merely an intellectual exercise over wars. While certainly important to talk about strategic nonviolence for geopolitics and social movements, we are empowered by Christ to reduce daily violence as we move through this world. Antoinette Tuff is a living witness to the power nonviolence possesses in saving lives and bringing about the peaceful Kingdom.


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Filed under Justice Issues, Nonviolence & Peacemaking, Uncategorized

Texas’ Deadly Antics Must Instruct Our Pro-Life Efforts

A Modern Cross

What exactly is happening for life issues in Texas this week? Notably, Texas reached 500 executions since 1982 Wednesday night, has imprisoned a man for 33 years without any valid conviction (i.e., he is innocent before the law), and saw statehouse theatrics around abortion legislation.

Clearly, Texas has a problem – but its problem is not geographic, it is the result of deep problems of the ‘pro-life’ (i.e., anti-abortion) movement that mandate our attention.

To set the scene:

-Kimberly McCarthy was executed this week, becoming the 500th victim of this practice since Texas’ reinstatement of the ungodly death penalty in 1982. Her execution is the final step in massive legal failings almost inherent to capital cases in America today. The vigor behind Texas’ in-justice system has made it responsible for more than 40% of US executions since 1976, according to the New York Times. The runner-up, Virginia, is nearly four hundred executions less and national momentum swings to the side of life even as Governor Rick Perry employs his sickle of death so deftly (while ironically speaking at the National Right to Life Convention the next day).

-Justice systems in Texas are severely broken, exemplified by the case of Jerry Hartfield who has been imprisoned for 33 years without a valid conviction. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in June 12 that Hartfield’s 1980 conviction, carrying the death penalty, was vacated and never retried as ordered by the courts. An innocent man, illiterate and with an IQ of 51, has spent three decades unjustly detained by the state government. Texas’ state officials now say they may actually try Hartfield for the 1976 crimes – in 2013. Truly understating this sin is the Court’s description of this case as “disturbingly unprofessional.”

-State Senator Wendy Davis filibustered proposed legislation that would close most of Texas’ abortion clinics, and when she was called out of order citizens in the gallery created chaos that made a vote before midnight impossible. Republicans admitted defeated, but Governor Perry already called a new special session to take up the abortion legislation again (and made remarks about Davis). There is a muddling of democratic processes involved, and neither side comes out in a positive light – nor is a comprehensive solution to ending the need for abortions advanced.

Clearly, the anti-abortion community is strong in Texas – yet, this is the same Texas that aggressively attempts to defend unborn life, also executes almost wantonly with little concern for human rights. What is wrong? Why are Texans so adamant in their defense of unborn children, while allowing such flaws to remain in their justice system – and hundreds to die as a result?

Phrased another way by Bill McQuillen

Phrased another way by Bill McQuillen…

It is precisely because the anti-abortion community must be pushed, from within and from those on the outside, to embrace a wider view of life. I wrote recently about ‘resurrecting the Seamless Garment‘ and the need for greater unity around issues of justice. Texas is a prime example of why this is so necessary.

In college, I coordinated several vigils to mark executions in Virginia, including for the ‘DC Sniper’ John Allen Mohammed. Students gathered at midnight to mark the victim’s death, as well as pray for all those injured in the brokenness of our criminal justice system – victims, families, prison officials, legal representatives, etc. A priest spoke a few words after reading the Gospel. A rosary prayed, a litany sung, often campaign of calls and petitions to the governor concluded – it all led to silence in the chapel as the execution began.

Absent in these moments were invited members of Students for Life, the campus’ anti-abortion club, after their leadership said the death penalty was not a life issue to all members. Over the years, this relationship changed through dialogue – and the leadership came to support (and now, I hear, even sponsor) anti-death penalty efforts at our Catholic university. Still, many students most fervently opposed to abortion ideologically oppose the death penalty work – mirroring Catholics at large.

The anti-abortion community must search within, listening to voices from sympathetic outsiders, and join in solidarity with a host of causes – opposing the death penalty, advocating gun control, prison reform, anti-militarism, etc. – that so often find anti-abortion activists opposing those of us working on other justice issues.

Being pro-life is a good and worthy cause. Being pro-life is a comprehensive approach defending all life. Being pro-life requires our dynamism to listen to the Spirit, educating ourselves on issues of injustice we are unaware or uncomfortable with and acting as builders rather than obstacles to the Kingdom on every issue.

Otherwise, the insanity in Texas will be our only fruit – partisan false solutions to abortion, failing justice systems, and a rising body count from state-sanctioned violence.


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