Moral Action and the State

untitledPublic-service announcements are everywhere.  For some time now it has been common for them to repeat a moral proverb that goes something like this: “You can judge a society by how well it treats its weakest members.” There are variations on this theme, but what they have in common is the idea that we have a moral duty to those who are unable to care for themselves or defend themselves.

Great civic and religious leaders have reminded us of this in different ways.

According to the gospels, Jesus of Nazareth argued for the rights of the poor and the necessity for his followers to be generous in offering assistance to them (Matthew 25:45f). Mohammed insisted on the practice of giving assistance to the poor; it is one of the five most important “pillars” of Islam to this day (Qur’an 9:60). Gandhi described poverty as “the worst form of violence.”  In all of the great religious traditions of humanity we find an emphasis on compassion, kindness, and mutual care.

These enlightened traditions are arguing for a sense of human community–a recognition that none of us is here alone and therefore, how we live our lives affects one another.  They encourage us to act in solidarity (for mutual responsibility) rather than solipsism (acting as if the only thing that matters is the self).

At the risk of sounding like a preacher, let me share with you what I believe at the very depths of my being.  I believe in God and in the overflowing goodness of God.  To my understanding, the entire cosmos is infused with divine possibility.  Following the teaching of my favorite theologian (Jesuit Karl Rahner), I believe that the human person has an unlimited capacity for the divine, both in our experience of living and our capacity to act.

I also believe that kinds words and small actions can make a world of difference.  In fact, I know it from experience.

But I also know from experience that people can be shallow, selfish, uncaring, and foolish in their choices.  The great religions of the world have dealt with this reality as well. Christians often refer to it as original sin. Another Jesuit theologian, William O’Malley, has gone on record saying that original sin is the only Christian doctrine that you can see on the front page of the newspaper every day. Recent events in Newtown, CT and closer to home in Lucedale, MS demonstrate that O’Malley is correct.

Believe it or not, I’m actually trying to live my life as a person of peace, as a person who fosters the dignity of others, as a person who is compassionate. Though I may not always succeed, in my work and in my personal affairs I actually try to do a bit more than expected, to reach out to those who are hurting, to make a real difference for the betterment of the lives of others.

That’s our moral duty.  Or so I believe.

I’m willing to bet that lots and lots of my neighbors believe likewise. We’re called to lives of moral activity. And by that I don’t just mean that we should stay out of trouble. As the Boy Scouts like to say, we should leave the place better than we found it. My Jewish friends refer to this as tikkun olam, “repairing the world.”  In my system of belief I am responsible for this. You are responsible for this. We are responsible for this.

So why do we cede this personal responsibility to the state?  I realize that Jesus said to “give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar,” but I can find no evidence in the gospel accounts to justify the idea that we should give to Caesar so that Caesar can provide for the needy. It seems that Caesar isn’t doing a very good job of it, anyway.

When did it become the duty of the state to care for our neighbors? When did we decide that government bureaucrats could better care for the poor than churches? Why are those on the so-called “progressive” side of American politics considered to be the compassionate ones while those who argue for limited government supposedly have hard hearts and unreasonable demands? How did the insistence that laws, taxes, and regulations be applied equally and not to special parties become misrepresented as a preferential option for the rich?

Let’s get back to morality for a moment.

I truly believe the things that I enunciated above.  I think many others believe those things, too. But the problem with morality–like religion–is that it’s very subjective. I may believe that my moral standards are universal and should apply to everyone. You may disagree. You may have different universal standards. Whose will prevail? Who gets to tell everyone else how to live, how to work, and how to spend their money?

The great wisdom of our nation’s founders was that they recognized this inherent problem. They also recognized that ceding moral responsibility to centralized government necessarily implied the expansion of force. The more you authorize government to do, the greater must be its power to enforce its way. This would appear to be one more reason for limiting the power of government to essentials.

Obviously, in our federal system, certain prerogatives must be delegated to the federal government. The Constitution severely limits those things, and for good reason. Once they are ceded power, governments tend to accumulate more and more of it (both at home and abroad). Because of our history and our understanding of governmental power as based upon the will of the people, we Americans have generally been comfortable with the exercise of governmental regulation.

In my view it’s unfortunate, however, that we have now come to equate our society’s moral goodness with how much money government is taking from some to give to others.

This is not what the great religious traditions have in mind when it comes to their teaching on moral action. There is nothing inherently moral about bloated bureaucracies, wasteful spending, or specialized taxation aimed at particular segments of our society. If federal taxation is necessary, and it seems that it is, then it should be accomplished fairly, evenly, and with an eye to funding only the responsibilities specifically delegated to the federal government by the Constitution.

Anything else is immoral, especially when it has resulted in $16 trillion in debt–a debt that is already harming the poor and destroying the economic future of our children (meaning an increase in future poverty).

Happy Thanksgiving!

On this day of national thanksgiving, take a moment to remind your loved ones of those whose sacrifice has made it possible for us to enjoy what liberty still remains.  Recommit yourself to the Constitution, and to the principles of limited government that served as the hallmark for our nation’s founding.

Forget politics for the day.  Relish your family and friends. Thank a member of the armed forces.  Hug a person whom you love.

Finally, please accept my sincere thanks on this anniversary.  The Liberty Professor’s blog is one year old.  In honor of this day I leave you the following prayer composed by George Washington at the end of the Revolutionary War.  It was forwarded to the governors of the thirteen, newly-independent states.  In sending it Washington addressed those governors as “your Excellency” because of his reverence for the sovereignty of their states.  Note as well that although Washington prays for “a spirit of subordination and obedience to government,” his vision of government was one that was severely limited in its scope and powers.  That was the only thing that truly made it valid.

The “Earnest Prayer” of General George Washington
at the Disbanding of the Continental Army
June 14, 1783

I now make it my earnest prayer that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection; that he would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow-citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for brethren who have served in the field; and finally that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.

Why Mitt Romney’s Mormonism Would Be a Blessing to America

A great deal has been made over the fact that Mitt Romney is Mormon, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (often referred to as just “Latter-Day Saints” or “LDS”).  In many cases the commentary has been negative and even inaccurate.  Interest in LDS faith seems to be growing, as evidenced by my visit to Barnes and Noble yesterday.  The number of books available there on Mormonism has increased dramatically in the last few weeks.

I, of course, am not a member of the LDS faith.  I’m a Roman Catholic.  I’ve had Mormon friends and I’ve studied the doctrines of their faith for some time now.  I’m thoroughly convinced that a president who is LDS and who lives by his church’s doctrines will be a very good thing for the United States of America.  If you understand what mainstream Mormonism teaches, you’ll understand why I hold such a conviction.

Before we go much further, let’s dispose of false idea that Mormonism is a cult.  I see no evidence of that.  Contrary to common misconception, having unusual beliefs doesn’t make a religious community a cult.  Genuine cults are communities where leaders have an excessive and often unhealthy control over their members.  Examples include the Branch Davidians (led by David Koresh) and Heaven’s Gate (led by Marshall Applewhite); members of both groups were led to their deaths by their leaders.

I would not classify the Latter-Day Saints of today as members of a cult, though it may be correct that the original Mormon community under Joseph Smith did shows signs of cult-like adherence.  In addition, please note that I’m talking about the largest group of Latter-Day Saints of which Romney is a member (with its headquarters in Salt Lake City).  I’m not referring to the smaller breakaway groups, some of which may still practice polygamy.  To reiterate, cults are marked more by the control exercised by their charismatic leaders than by unusual doctrines.  It is not uncommon in the study of religious history to encounter communities that began as cults but later became mainstream.

For those who argue that Mormon beliefs are not mainstream, I can’t deny that there is a certain accuracy there.  Mormon doctrines and theology, while retaining the terminology of more traditional Christianity, diverges wildly in how it uses that terminology.  Doctrines such as salvation and the fatherhood of God are understood differently by LDS adherents.  Mormons believe that we humans existed spiritually prior to coming to earth and that highest salvation consists of reaching the status of divine beings.  As earthly children grow to become like their parents, so Mormons believe that their ultimate goal is to grow into the status of the Heavenly Parents from which they received their original creation.

There are those who enjoy poking fun at the Mormon tradition of wearing religious underwear (called “garments”) connected to their first visit to an LDS temple.  Is such a practice drastically different from the Catholic tradition of wearing a scapular underneath our shirts?  Is it very distant from the idea often seen on TV that an evangelist can pray over a small cloth and mail it to someone who has needs that might be answered by prayer?  All religious people use outward signs as symbols of faith.  Recognizing this, it seems fruitless to laugh at each other with the vain idea that our own symbols make sense while the symbols of others are silly.

For sure, Mormon doctrines are very different (heterodox) from the beliefs of wider Christianity.  Nonetheless, Mormons should be considered Christians. They believe that their ultimate fulfillment as future heavenly parents themselves is made possible by the redemption of Jesus Christ.  This particular version of salvation may not sit comfortably with most Christians, but it still qualifies as a theological understanding of the significance of the life and work of Christ as our Savior.  Mormons explain the divergence by insisting that theirs is the true church of Jesus Christ, re-established in these “latter times” because genuine Christian doctrine had been lost, or at least corrupted through history.

Now let’s get to the core of my argument.  Why do I believe Mitt Romney’s Mormonism will bless America?  Well, that part is easy.

Joseph Smith, LDS prophet and founder, was a simple lad from Vermont.  He was born in 1817 and lived much of his early life in the state of New York.  He seems to have been imaginative and of a certain religious bent, though not beyond taking advantage of the gullibility of others to avoid hard work.  Whatever you may think of him, we can’t deny that he was a man of his times, a citizen of a new nation dreaming of unlimited expansion and wealth to the west.  It grew to be understood by most Americans that the young nation’s control of the entire continent, from Atlantic to Pacific, was it’s “manifest destiny.”

This national optimism was infectious.  It found a welcome home in the doctrines of the Latter-Day Saints.  To put it in my own words, Mormonism is the religion of American exceptionalism.  The evidence for this position lies at the heart of all Mormon theology; it’s demonstrated clearly in the Book of Mormon (which Mormons believe to carry the same revelatory weight as the Bible).

For Mormons, many of the early inhabitants of North America were the lost tribes of Israel–members of God’s own chosen people.  The fact that no scientific evidence exists for this position doesn’t change their belief.  In addition, they believe that Christ himself visited these people and preached to them.  Going back even further, Mormons believe that America is so important to the plans of God that the Garden of Eden itself was located here.  And it is here, in what is now the United States of America, that God will establish a divine kingdom on earth at the end of time (the New City of Zion or Heavenly Jerusalem).  We don’t have to fear that Mormons themselves will try to found this kingdom.  In their early days they did try it, and failed.  This failure led them to reformulate their understanding and to leave the kingdom to God’s doing.

Because of their unusual beliefs (along with the personality quirks of Joseph Smith–especially regarding plural marriage), early Mormons suffered tremendously for their faith.  As far as I am aware, they are the only religious group in US history to be identified by a government officer for extermination (the so-called Missouri Executive Order No. 44, issued by Governor Lilburn Boggs in 1838).  Early Mormons perpetrated their share of suffering on others, but for the most part they were on the receiving end of persecution.  Personal responsibility and hard work came to be synonymous with Mormonism.  It is the foundation of the LDS ethos to this day.  (Such commitment to hard work is a bit ironic, given Joseph Smith’s penchant for avoiding it!)

While there are exceptions to every rule, Mormon Americans are generous and kind people who cherish their country and who believe it–and the liberties it recognizes–to be an important part of God’s plan for the world.  One of the reasons that Mormons are so strict about alcohol and caffeine consumption is because of their belief in restoration.  All that was wrong with the world before Joseph Smith’s “revelations” can be corrected through the restored church founded by him.  Theologically speaking, America appears to me to be part of how they understand that divine restoration.

I’m not a Mormon, but I don’t fear having a God-loving Mormon in the White House–even if his understanding of God is different than my own.  Given what I know about “Latter-Day Saints,” I’m looking forward to it.

Bad Moon Rising: Control, Coercion, and Government Power

I see the bad moon arising
I see trouble on the way
I see earthquakes and lightnin’
I see bad times today

-Creedence Clearwater Revival

I remember during my years of Catholic seminary training that there were certain members of the community who always seemed to be worried about what their congregants were doing.  The supposition seemed to be that whatever it was that they were up to, it probably included a whole bunch of sin, and for their own good they needed to be controlled.  I fell for the argument for a while, but I eventually came to see it as not only counter-productive, but in opposition to the sacramentality that marks what Catholicism is all about.  For blog readers who aren’t Catholic, sacramentality is the belief that everything God created can be an experience of God–especially human persons.  You see, unlike some evangelical teaching, Catholic Christianity does not accept the notion of total human depravity.  Instead, we wholeheartedly embrace the biblical teaching that every human person is made in “the image and likeness of God,” and that God’s presence can be discerned even in those who are not Christian and even in those with no religious faith at all.  Do humans make mistakes and wander into sin?  Yep, you betcha.  But the divine spark remains.  This is a very positive appreciation of what it means to be human.  We theologians speak of it as “positive anthropology.”

Such insights eventually brought me to the conviction that people need less to be controlled and more to be led, encouraged, reasoned with, and brought into dialogue with one another.  Obviously, in any social context there is a valid place for some control.  In a society or religious community that recognizes freedom as an expression of a divine presence, however, the controlling instinct should not be dominant.  I am most fervently committed to the doctrine that what is true and holy–what is authentically human–is discovered only when the inherent value of free human persons who are agents for their own growth is recognized and enshrined in law.  This is an Enlightenment principle that inspired our nation’s Founders, and while they did not all refer to themselves as “Christians,” it remains a profoundly Christian idea.  In fact, some historians and philosophers have argued that democratic principles could not have developed as they did without the influence of this form of Christian theologizing.

Sadly, too few of our elected representatives have such a positive view of human nature.  The same seems to apply to government bureaucrats.  And before you castigate me, let me say again that I’m not arguing for human infallibility or for some romanticized notion of human society.  We humans can be selfish, petty, ignorant, petulant, hateful, spiteful, and egocentric.  I know all of this.  Our varied religious traditions have different ways of explaning this fact.  Christians refer to it as original sin.  On the other hand, we are also capable of the most amazing kindness, personal sacrifice, goodness, and creativity.  These realizations inform not only my theological opinions, but my political and economic ideas as well.  Rather than always being focused on control and putting extreme limitations upon citizens and their economic productivity, wouldn’t a government be more effective (and less expensive) if its policies were focused on the encouragement of the best behavior?

I does appear to me that our nation’s constitutional Founders had this same idea.  Their vision was for a federal form of government with severely curtailed ability to control the populace.  It’s enough that the national government prevent fraudulent, abusive, and violent activities.  Leave the rest to the people themselves to decide, gathered together into political subdivisions by State.  They reasoned that if legislative folly was enacted, it should happen at the State level where there was more local control, and where political silliness could more effectively be prevented or, if enacted into law, rescinded.

During the first week of this blog (November 2011) I predicted Mitt Romney would be the GOP nominee.  That is all but assured at this point.  Later, I predicted that he would win the 2012 presidential race.  When that happens, we who are inspired by constitutional values must press even harder and more vocally for a return to the limitations of our beloved Constitution.  If we don’t, we can count on more of what we’ve seen in the Obama years.  There are always politicians available who are thirsty for control.  The sunset of freedom is never distant.  Lady Liberty demands vigiliance against those who prefer control and coercion backed by the threat of armed force.

Healthcare: The REAL Agenda

Before getting to the point of this post, please allow me to thank you for another milestone.  Yesterday, the hits to this blog once again reached an all-time high.  Thank you for following The Liberty Professor.  Please continue to offer your comments and critiques.  I genuinely believe that truth is discovered most efficiently when people are engaged in honest dialogue.  I hope you’ll continue to share the blog with others.  Now let’s get to the point.

The “mainstream” media is touting the fact that Barack Obama has compromised on the birth control mandate.  Compromise?  I didn’t see any compromise.  All he did was to supposedly shift the cost, a shell game played all the time by the politicians in Washington.  When it comes to making one group pay for things to be given to another, however, Democrats are kings.  As Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote yesterday over at Business Insider, Obama won’t make his liberal allies pay for their own reproductive coverage, and Catholics are refusing to pay for the parts of it their church leaders condemn as wrong, so he pulled out his magic elixir and decreed that no one will have to pay for it.

Let’s let the Welfare, uh, White House statement speak for itself:  “Religious organizations will not have to provide contraceptive coverage or refer their employees to organizations that provide contraception.”  Instead,  “insurance companies will be required to provide contraception coverage to these women free of charge.”  That’s a fantasy, but those last three words still represent the great doxology of Democrat policies.  They cure all ills.  They fix all problems.  And they are meant to guarantee Democrat victories in national politics for ever and ever, world without end.  To this prayer there are many who are willing to chant, “Amen.”

When owners and investors take the risks of opening a business or establishing a company, it is they who should decide what benefits to offer employees.  It should be the potential employees who decide whether or not to take the jobs offered, based upon those benefits.  To those who have a preference for socialist models, we call this the “free market.”  (Salaries used to be decided by the free market, too, but that’s a topic for another post.) 

Employers should decide whether to offer insurance, or no insurance, and whether or not to cover co-pays and deductibles or any other costs they wish to consider.  Except for preventing fraud and dishonesty in the negotiation and sale of such coverage, government should stay out of the affairs of private persons.  Benefits and employment arrangements, for the most part, are private affairs between private persons.  But that’s not how it works when you have a Godzilla-sized camel named Government that insists on putting its nose into every tent in the country.  “I’m Government,” grins the camel, “and I’m here to help.”  The story is worthy of Dr. Seuss himself.

We all know what the real agenda is for the so-called “progressives” in our nation’s capital:  a single-payer system.  Mark my words, dear reader, when I promise you that they will never rest until they get this.  And at some point they will get it unless we reclaim our constitutional republic.  One can almost feel the disdain with which CBS reported on the fact that “conservatives who believe religious freedom always trumps gender equity in the public arena are outraged.” 

Dear CBS, let’s get it right for a change.  The religious people you criticize in this particular matter haven’t taken anything from anyone.  All they have asked is that they not be forced to pay for or provide coverage for services they believe to be immoral.  Is that so hard to get?  Is that request so unreasonable?  Bluntly, many progressives will reply that it is unreasonable.  Tyranny is always predicated upon some notion of what’s good, even when it has to be a good that is falsified and presented in the shadows.  Nothing matters here but the end game, my friends:  universal, single-payer healthcare coverage.

Why not?  It will be free.  “Free of charge.”  It has a nice ring to it. 

The Left is forever whining about the fact that Americans supposedly pay more for healthcare than anyone else on the planet.  We also spend more on our pets than anywhere else.  Do we need a federal mandate on that, too?

Wait until healthcare is “free.”  As they say down here in the Deep South, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

The Pro-Obama Hype: Fools Gone Wild

“Like a dog who returns to its vomit
is a fool who returns to his folly.”
(Proverbs 26:11)

It continues to amaze me that the Founders of our nation showed such remarkable restraint and wisdom when it came to federal power.  They instinctively knew what some today are only beginning to grasp:  power, once taken, is seldom curtailed.  Looking at history we see that this is true.  Those who have power over others quite often use that power to advance it toward increase.  In an effort to prevent this the authors of the Constitution established three distinct branches of government, each of which was intended to keep an eye on and limit the others.  If politicians are busy watching each other, it was thought, perhaps they won’t have much time to bother the people and disturb their liberties.

Then they added two other ingredients to the plan, both enshrined in that part of the Constitution known as the Bill of Rights:  a guarantee of freedom for the press, and an explicit statement that all powers not specifically delegated to the federal government are reserved to the States and their people.  If the three branches monitor each other and the press monitors all three, we can rest comfortably in the knowledge that governmental tyranny can be prevented.  The plan was bold and terrific.

But what if the press were to become the mouthpiece for powerful government?  What if the hope of a Utopia in America were to lead members of the press to lose their objectivity and support the agenda of limiting liberty?  In The Rights of Man (1792), Thomas Paine wrote that “it is monarchical and aristocratical government only that requires ignorance for its support.”  Thank God he did not write, “when political elites horde power in order to promise us impossible benefits, a thrill goes up my leg.”

When British troops surrendered to the Continental Army at Yorktown in 1781, the British band played The World Turned Upside-Down.  The mightiest army had been beaten by liberty-minded, colonial upstarts.  The world truly seemed a different place.

Well, if Washington Post political writer Melinda Henneberger is any indicator, the world may have turned over again–not for the better, but tilted in the favor of tyranny.  On Wednesday of this week she appeared on Hardball, the CNN news program hosted by Chris Matthews.  Unable to control her tongue, and obviously fishing for something intelligent to say, she offered this dangerous notion:  “Maybe the Founders were wrong to guarantee free exercise of religion in the First Amendment but that is what they did ….”

This debate, despite what the liberal talking heads are saying, is not about reproductive rights or a woman’s power over her own body.  Even among Catholics the question of birth control is controversial.  As a Catholic theologian I cannot fail to recognize that.  But the debate about Catholic doctrine belongs to Catholics, just as the debate of all religious organizations about their own beliefs belongs with them.  The federal government has no right to demand that a religious organization pay for services that go against its teachings.  If any American is willing to give even a single millimeter on this issue then the Constitution might as well be used in the bottom of a bird cage.

The debate isn’t about birth control.  It’s about who can be forced to pay for it.  My advice is this:  condoms are cheap, so buy your own.  Or visit your local health department where you’ll normally receive them for free.

This decision was made unilaterally by one man:  President Barack Obama.  Even Vice President Joe Biden warned against it.  It is a shame that we are debating the law itself instead of the fact that any single person in this Republic should have so much power.  This was a partisan decision, purely and simply.  It amounts to nothing more than an attempt by Obama to shore up his liberal base.  He doesn’t give a damn about the Constitution as long as he and the Democrat party remain in power.  It is unreasonable.  It is dangerous.  It is tyrannical.  It’s unconstitutional in the most obvious of ways.  And yet too many in the press and in other quarters are willing to look the other direction.

Today they’ll limit the rights of Catholics.  Whose rights will be limited tomorrow?  Maybe the government will tell Baptists that they can’t print Bibles anymore because it causes global warming.  Or perhaps Jews will be told they can no longer speak of their support for Israel because it might cause a disruption of the peace process in the Middle East.  Maybe Uncle Sam will take the gold from churches and temples to be melted down for the sake of the poor.  Once we fool ourselves and trade our freedom for an unrealistic Utopia there is no end to the dangers we face.

The Catholic bishops who supported Obamacare in the hope of a better America are waking up to the fact that the one with whom they jumped into bed cannot be trusted.  After a meeting with President Obama, Archbishop (soon to be Cardinal) Timothy Dolan of New York was satisfied that the Emperor would respect religious rights.  He was wrong; he feels that he was betrayed.  Maybe now the University of Notre Dame will take back the honorary doctorate it hastily awarded Obama in 2009.

Barack Obama is the King of Feel-Good Politics, a land where money grows on trees and can be spent without negative repercussions.  There is always more.  It’s a land where personal freedoms are granted not by God, but by government.  His blind supporters remain asleep and they fail to grasp that America is at a new crossroads, one that offers the false vision of a just future if only we will stop demanding our freedom.  Grant the government just a little more power, they say, and the Kingdom of Righteousness will come.  Just a bit more, then just a little more, and then ever so small a slice more power.  It never ends.

If, perhaps, the Founders were “wrong” to guarantee religious freedom, then perhaps they were wrong to imagine a system of limited government at all.  Perhaps they were wrong to allow freedom of the press, or the right to peaceful assembly.  Maybe they were wrong to demand the due process of law for all who stand accused.  Hmm.  Come to think of it, this is the strange new world we’re being offered already.

Tyranny always has as its excuse the hope of a better society.  William Pitt reminded us in 1793 that necessity is “the argument of tyrants” and “the plea for every infringement of human freedom.”

On the day that Barack Obama was elected, some of us were already sounding the alarm.  We were ridiculed.  It was wrongly thought that words like “tyranny” and “liberty” were leftovers from history with no meaning for us today.  Now, even the Catholic bishops are sounding the alarm.  Can we hear it?

MLK Celebration 2012: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

I have tremendous respect for the memory of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   Being a Christian, a scholar, a professor of theology, and a student of history, how could I not?  I see him as a martyr for human dignity.  Like him, I also honor Mahatma Gandhi, from whose legacy Dr. King learned the principles of satyagraha (non-violent, absolute refusal to cooperate with evil).  To paraphrase Dr. King, our problems as a species aren’t caused by the varied shades of our skin color, but by the content–or lack of content–to be found in our character.

There are those who say that religion and politics should never meet.  I am not among them.  I agree with Gandhi:  “Those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics don’t know what religion is.”   I’d add that it’s what we do with our faith that makes all the difference.  Are we fervent or fanatical?  Is our creed a light for understanding or a sword for conquering?  Does it liberate or enslave?  Does it offer to the world a forgiveness for which it greatly yearns or does it hold us bound to the chains of past wrongs?  MLK Day 2012 offers examples to learn by.

First, the sublime.  In a recent interview to mark the holiday, Alveda King had some important things to say about Dr. King.  Her words are worth hearing because she is the niece of the civil rights leader slain 44 years ago.  “I believe if my uncle were here, he would be encouraging the president to turn to the pro-life platform. My uncle was very pro-life. And certainly if he did not do that, my uncle would be praying for him, and perhaps giving his vote to other candidates.”

In other sources I see that Alveda speaks of the fact that her uncle was critical even of the ancient Romans for their practice of infanticide.  Surely it should not surprise us that a well-read, ordained Baptist minister and intelligent leader like Dr. King was critical of abortion.  How long does any species survive when it begins to destroy its offspring?

Now for the ridiculous.  Rev. Raphael Warnock is pastor of Ebenezar Baptist Church in Atlanta, a congregation where Dr. King also served as a cooperating pastor at the time he was assasinated.  In a Sunday sermon intended to honor the civil rights leader on the day before the MLK holiday, Dr. Warnock criticized presidential candidate Newt Gingrich for “scape-goating and race baiting,” which he referred to as “an old game that’s part of the southern strategy.” 

Rev. Warnock’s anger and his racism radar were reportedly activated by recent comments by Gingrich.  “More people were on food stamps today because of Obama’s policies than ever in history,” the GOP candidate has said.   If invited to speak to the NAACP, he’d go “to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand pay checks and not be satisfied with food stamps.”

According to an authoritative government website, there were 44,708,726 people using SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the food stamp program) in 2011.  According to the US Census Bureau, there are 312,862,687 of us residing here as of yesterday.  That means that, by government estimates, about 14% of us are receiving nutrition assistance–not a difficult thing to do given the fact that a family of four can receive SNAP benefits on an EBT card while earning nearly $40,000 a year.  For that same family, basic SNAP benefits add just over $8,000 of annual nutrition assistance (and beneficiaries may also qualify for other government assistance).

Before your eyes glaze over and I lose your interest because of so many numbers coming your way, let me get to the fact that matters most:  as reported by the USDA, there are more people of European descent receiving SNAP benefits than those of African descent.  So I can only assume, with my tongue planted firmly within my cheek, that Rev. Warnock is accusing New Gingrich of hating white people.

Or we could take a long, hard look at economic realities as they have hit the African-American community because of the failures of the Obama presidency.  Americans of African descent need to ask themselves a question:  who are the genuine race baiters in our nation’s political arena?  Who’s manipulating whom?  Whose support can always be counted upon–and is demanded by which party? 

Conservatives have learned that they can’t always count on the Republican party.  It’s time for our citizens of proud African heritage to realize that they can’t always count on the Democrat party.

Perhaps a quotation from Dr. King is in order:  “Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’  Expediency asks the question,  ‘Is it politic?’  And vanity comes along and asks the question,  ‘Is it popular?’  But conscience asks the question  ‘Is it right?’  And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because  conscience tells him it is right.” 

Amen.

Oh, here’s one more tidbit of interesting information for the readers of this blog.  It comes from the same news report that gave us the information about Rev. Warnock’s pulpit rant against Newt Gingrich.  Let me quote it precisely so there is no misunderstanding:  “White House Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President Valerie Jarrett was seated near the pulpit during the service.”

Huh.  Imagine that.