The president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities on the “ethics of reopening”

College classroom 3

Reverend Dennis Holtschneider, CM, is president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. Over at Inside Higher Ed he offers 13 things to think about as colleges and universities reopen in a few weeks:

  1. “Everyone holds ethical responsibility for others in a pandemic”
  2. “Members of a college or university community are responsible for their own health”
  3. “Pre-eminent is not the same as overriding”
  4. “Which ethic serves the moment?”
  5. “At what point are colleges and universities “irresponsible?”
  6. “Ethical responsibility is situational and local”
  7. “How much cleaning is enough cleaning to be ethically in the clear?”
  8. “In a pandemic, shared governance is not suddenly ceded to the senior administration:
  9. “Boards of Trustees and senior leadership must, of necessity, take financial effects and organizational sustainability into account in the decisions they are making.”
  10. “Who decides, once institutions reopen, the point at which they should close again”
  11. “In a pandemic, some courtesies become ethical requirements”
  12. “In college athletics, consent requires freedom”
  13. “What is the responsibility to the town?”

See how Holtschneider unpacks these points here.

When the Supreme Court engages in bad history

Supreme Court

Willamette University law professor and historian Steven K. Green makes a compelling case that the Supreme Court was “sloppy” in its use of history in the recent Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue decision.

Here is a taste of his piece at Religion Dispatches:

More broadly, the opinions in Espinoza raise questions about the Court’s use of history, particularly when it becomes a rule of constitutional law. History is “complex,” as Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged and Justice Breyer echoed, yet an adversarial legal forum is not the optimal place for settling the complexities of a historical event. The efforts of Catholic immigrants to find acceptance in nineteenth-century America have been documented, as has the resistance of Protestants who were suspicious of the commitment of a foreign-born Catholic hierarchy to American democratic values. 

That this episode coincided with the development of American common schooling has only added complexity to the historical narrative. Proponents of common schooling sought to create an institution where children of various faiths could acquire a commitment to republican values, while ensuring the financial security of the fledgling public schools. Public school advocates were also concerned about ensuring public accountability and public control over school funds. 

Funding a competing system of religious schooling—at the time, not solely Catholic but also Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist, and Baptist schools, among others—would have stunted the development of public education, its advocates believed. Witnessing the rapid growth of Catholic immigration and its rising political influence in many cities, public education advocates also feared that funding religious schools would lead to religious competition and divisiveness. 

Embracing some of those arguments, nativists then added a layer of anti-Catholic prejudice that was guaranteed to appeal to some, but not all, Protestant Americans, including those who faced economic dislocation resulting from the influx of immigrant workers. At the opposite end of the spectrum was a cohort of liberal Protestants and freethinkers who opposed funding of religious schooling on grounds it violated church-state separation and the rights of conscience of those who didn’t want their tax dollars to support religious beliefs with which they disagreed. 

I could go on because there’s more to the story, but that’s precisely the point. This history is too complex to be decided in a judicial forum. In writing opinions, judges commonly draw on the information contained in the briefs of the parties and their supporting amici curiae. These briefs are written by lawyers (typically not historians) who advocate for particular outcomes and provide arguments and cherry pick data to support those resultsThis process is far removed from the enterprise of historical scholarship. 

Not only is legal adjudication not the optimal forum for unpacking the nuances of history, but a judge’s interpretation of a historical event takes on a greater significance. By “declaring” the defining meaning of a particular historical episode—something that historians refrain from doing—that interpretation becomes a constitutional rule. 

Read the entire piece here.

Are white evangelicals turning to Biden?

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Some solid reporting from Gabby Orr at Politico:

It was June 10, 2008. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama had gathered with dozens of evangelical leaders — many of them fixtures of the religious right — at the urging of campaign aides. If he could offer genuine glimpses of his own abiding faith, they insisted he could chisel away at the conservative Christian voting bloc.

At a rally in the Bible Belt, he talked about the church he’d attended for two decades in Chicago. Calling for an “all-hands-on-deck approach” to tackle poverty, he promised churches and religious organizations would play a greater public role in delivering social services under his administration. And during a faith-based forum in Southern California, he said his own support for Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision on abortion rights, did not mean he wasn’t interested in reducing abortion in America.

The strategy worked. Obama’s campaign stops at churches, sermonlike speeches and his professed belief in Jesus Christ earned him 24 percent of the white evangelical vote — doubling Democrats’ support among young white evangelicals and gaining 3 percentage points with the overall demographic from the 2004 election.

Now, allies of President Donald Trump worry his 2020 opponent, Joe Biden, can do the same — snatching a slice of a critical voting bloc from Trump when he can least afford departures from his base.

Biden, a lifelong Roman Catholic, has performed better in recent polling among white evangelicals — and other religious groups — than Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton did in 2016 and is widely perceived as more religious than the current White House occupant. A Pew Research study conducted earlier this year showed that a majority of U.S. adults (63 percent) think Trump is “not at all” or “not too religious,” versus 55 percent who said they believed Biden is somewhat or very religious.

Read the rest here.

Springsteen Will Address Boston College’s Incoming Class

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Here is a taste of the Boston College press release:

Singer, songwriter, and legendary performer Bruce Springsteen, whose best-selling autobiography Born to Run provides an intimate portrait of the inner struggles and triumphs of one of America’s most beloved musical icons, will address the Class of 2024 at Boston College’s First Year Academic Convocation on September 10 in Conte Forum…

This summer, all first-year students will receive an e-copy of Springsteen’s book and a reflection guide that will help them to examine the themes raised in Born to Run—family dynamics, personal relationships, addressing adversity, and setting and fulfilling aspirations–and how they might intersect with their own lives.

“At Boston College, we have long understood from the Jesuits about the importance of engaging students in a conversation that encourages their growth intellectually, socially, and spiritually,” said Executive Director of Student Formation Michael Sacco. “The format of the conversation can vary, but the aim remains to encourage students to be attentive to their experiences and reflective of their meaning, with the hope that this will help them discern their role in the world.   

“Through his songs, Bruce Springsteen has long been such a conversation partner to his audience, masterfully portraying the American experience through lyrics that inspire reflection about our world, our families, our jobs, our struggles, and our relationships.  But in his memoir, Bruce reveals the conversation he had with himself as he approached many of his life’s crossroads.  In doing so, Bruce shares how attentiveness, contemplation, and authenticity played a key role in his personal growth and honing his immense talents. Each BC student brings a unique set of talents, and reading Bruce’s story will give them an invaluable perspective as they begin their formation at Boston College,” Sacco said.

First launched in 2004 as a formative experience and unifying event for all incoming students, the First Year Academic Convocation has featured award-winning authors ranging from Ann Patchett (Run) and Colum McCann, (Let the Great World Spin) to political leaders Barack Obama (Dreams From My Father) and John McCain (Lives of Moral Leadership).  Considered the signature academic event of freshman year, the convocation has become a beloved BC tradition that melds the University’s Jesuit, Catholic mission and heritage with its commitment to the liberal arts and formative education.

Born to Run has been lauded by critics for its frankness and eloquence, written in the authentic voice of a tenacious son of New Jersey who is considered the greatest songwriter of his generation and the poet of the American experience. NPR described the book as a “virtuoso performance,” the New York Times called it “frank and gripping,” and “intensely satisfying,” while Rolling Stone magazine described it as “an utterly unique, endlessly exhilarating, last-chance power drive of a memoir.”    

Following its release, Springsteen read from the book and shared personal reminiscences in an eight-week theatrical performance called “Springsteen on Broadway.”  His appearance at Boston College will be his first and only college visit.

“For the Class of 2024, Born to Run is a wonderful introduction to the lifelong process of discernment that is so central to the philosophy of student formation at Boston College,” said First Year Experience Director Ali Bane. “Springsteen’s memoir includes countless examples of him paying close attention to his life experiences, reflecting upon their meaning, and living in a way that translates this meaning into action to create a better world.

“Inspired by his own working-class upbringing, many of Springsteen’s songs empathize with those who have been marginalized or oppressed. First-year students will benefit greatly from reading this honest, reflective, and authentic narrative of someone who has so significantly shaped the cultural milieu of our country throughout his decades of music making.”

Read the entire release here.

The Author’s Corner with Gracjan Kraszewski

Catholic ConfederatesGracjan Kraszewski is Director of Intellectual Formation at St. Augustine’s Catholic Center at the University of Idaho.  He is also Instructor of Construction and Design at Washington State University. This interview is based on his new book, Catholic Confederates: Faith and Duty in the Civil War South (The Kent State University Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Catholic Confederates?

GK: My personal story, geography, and a lifelong interest. In respective order, I am a Catholic and so I suppose a lot of people find it natural to write about something from their own daily, lived experience. Secondly, I attended grad school in the South, in Mississippi, and the Civil War is, still, omnipresent in this region, and the archives and sites close by facilitate undertaking such a project. Third, growing up in Pennsylvania I think I must have visited Gettysburg more than ten separate times as a boy, minimum. I was always fascinated by the Civil War. These things in tandem produced a perfect storm, and made my topic something of a no brainer. (Plus, super fun too!).

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Catholic Confederates?

GK: You do not have to wait until the 20th century, until JFK and the Second Vatican Council and ethnic identity-leveling suburban sprawl, to see evidence of Catholic assimilation into American life. During the Civil War, Southern Catholics ‘Confederatized’ (‘Americanization’ via the Confederacy) into their surrounding society with ease—supporting secession and the war as fervently as their more well known Protestant neighbors—and found this devotion returned, winning the approbation of Confederates elite and common alike, serving in key posts throughout the conflict, and remaining at the epicenter of events, a fact often buried in historiographical obscurity.

JF: Why do we need to read Catholic Confederates?

GK: Because not enough Civil War historians know about the role Catholics played in the Confederacy, not enough scholars of American Catholicism know enough about the South—let alone the Civil War South—and the general body of American Catholics (and Protestants as well) too readily accept that anything ‘Catholic’ and ‘American’ must revolve exclusively around issues, problems and people like ‘the North,’ immigration and demographics, Humanae Vitae, Boston, New York, Vatican II, Chicago, John Paul II, Pope Francis. Few would ever consider that Catholics might have been visible and important in the 19th century ‘Bible Belt;’ American Catholics just don’t know this part of their own history. This book remedies all three of these blind spots simultaneously.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

GK: My father is a poet and a literature professor. And I love my father. So I think I always associated the academic life, the teaching and the writing, with what grown-ups do because my dad did that and I grew up with it. The American history specificity probably has a lot to do with those Gettysburg trips, but also that from a young age I was ‘good at history.’ Memorizing the dates, knowing who was who and who went were, that stuff kind of came natural to me. I was reading Civil War books as a ten year old and I never thought that was weird, like ‘why don’t I pick up some comics or something?’ I liked history then and have never stopped liking it.

JF: What is your next project?

GK: There’s two taking shape at the moment. I’m working on, nearly done with, a maximalist, absurdist-comedy novel that is set around the year 2100 (although it is not, in any way, science fiction; never, haha) that treats the American pursuit of happiness in a post-postmodern world. It’s centered around a progressive academy in the New Mexican desert— ESSNWNAU-AL: East Southwestern South Northeastern West North American University of the Arts and Logic—and is parts philosophical, theological, economic and atomic, i.e. scientists who build something much more powerful than the Tsar Bomba and so, what now? It’s pretty long already (more than 300,000 words) and has been appearing via short story excerpts in publications the past few years, most recently in the Canadian journal Riddle Fence this month. The second book stems from my work as Director of Intellectual Formation at the Univ. of Idaho’s St. Augustine Center. Each month I give a 30 min. lecture—on Catholicism and politics, Catholicism and sports, contrasting superheroes and saints, etc.—and we’re hoping to compile what will be essentially a collection of essays into a book sometime next year, maybe summer 2021?

JF: Thanks, Gracjan!

Has Cardinal Timothy Dolan Compromised His Moral Clarity?

Dolan Trump

John Gehring, the Catholic Program Director for Faith in Public Life, thinks so.

Here is a taste of his piece at the New York Daily News:

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and other prominent Catholic bishops should ask themselves whether their moral clarity is compromised after a recorded phone call between President Trump and members of the hierarchy surfaced earlier this week.

During the call, which took place on Saturday and was first reported by the Catholic news outlet Crux, Trump declares that he is “best [president] in the history of the Catholic Church,” and describes himself as the most committed anti-abortion president in history. While the call covered a range of issues, including support for Catholic schools, the president’s efforts to end abortion and his reelection prospects became a focal point.

“I hope that everyone gets out and votes and does what they have to do,” the president implored some 600 Catholic educators and a number of leading bishops who dialed in to the call, including Dolan, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Los Angeles Archbishop José Gómez, who is the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Trump warned that if he is defeated in November, “You’re going to have a very different Catholic Church.”

None of the Catholic leaders challenged the president’s cruelty toward immigrants, denial of climate change, cuts to food assistance or his pattern of racist demagoguery. This was a missed opportunity to speak truth to power.

Catholic teaching can’t be reduced to a single issue. Pope Francis is unequivocal that the “lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute” are as “equally sacred,” in his words, as the unborn in the womb.

At times, the call exuded the bonhomie of an old boys club. The president praised Cardinal Dolan as a “great friend,” adding that he always respects what the cardinal “asks for.” Dolan responded that “the feelings are mutual sir,” joking that the two speak so frequently that his elderly mother complains “I call you more than I call her.”

And the court evangelicals garnered a reference in Gehring’s piece:

To be clear, Catholic bishops have at times issued strong statements challenging the Trump administration’s actions impacting immigrants and have objected to how the administration’s tax policies favor the wealthy. Compared to the circle of evangelical flatterers Trump surrounds himself with to convey religious support, Catholic leaders are far more critical of the president than white evangelicals. But if bishops in particular want to avoid becoming the Catholic version of what the religious historian John Fea calls “court evangelicals,” they can start by recognizing the dangers that come with cozying up to a president who consistently makes a mockery of Christian values.

Read the entire piece here.

How the Chicago Archdiocese Dealt With the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

Chicago Archdiocese

St. George’s Catholic Church, 39th St. and Wentworth, Chicago, IL

Here is an October 17, 1918 letter from E.F. Hoban, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago (on behalf of  Cardinal, Archbishop George William Mundelein), to the pastors of all the Catholic churches in the archdiocese.

  1. All evening services are suspended. The faithful may visit the Church during the day for private devotion, but there are to be no public devotions in the afternoons or evenings.
  2. Wherever missions are being held, they must close with the end of the week, to be resumed, if so desired, after the wave of sickness has passed.
  3. Masses will take place on Sundays at the usual hours, but no service is to last over 45 minutes. All long sermons are prohibited for the meanwhile, and the clergy will prepare the scheduled Sunday instructions so that it is delivered within five minutes.
  4. Between the Masses, the church is to be thoroughly ventilated for ten to fifteen minutes, while the people are out of the building, care being taken not to expose the parishioners unnecessarily to cold currents of air.
  5. Additional ushers will be stationed in the aisles, not only to facilitate both the seating and the exit of the changing congregations, but also to request the departure of any person showing indications of  having contracted the disease, by violent sneezing, coughing, etc.
  6. Church to be cleaned frequently, disinfectant used where necessary, and well-aired at all times.
  7. During this period, all confirmation and other episcopal ceremonies are suspended, but such churches will receive preference when the epidemic has passed. As the Archbishop has promised the public authorities that every precaution will be taken by the churches under his care during the time of this epidemic, he looks to each of his priests to see that in his own parish this promise is carried out to the letter.

Finally, commend to the prayers of your people, particularly the children, the speedy recovery of all those on whom sickness has laid its hand and the early termination of this epic.

By Order of the Most Rev. Archbishop,

E.F. Hoban,

Chancellor

Source

American Jesuits and Slavery

Jesuit Missions

Over at America, Sean Salai S.J. interviews Laura Weis, coordinator of the Jesuits Slavery, History, Memory and Reconciliation Project.  The project was designed to “build relationships with descendants, community members, researchers, Jesuit partners and others to identify the history and descendants of Jesuit-enslaved people in the 19th century United States.”

Here is a taste of the interview:

What are the goals of this project?

From the beginning, the project leaders identified three interrelated goals, all of which are ongoing and not necessarily linear. The first is to research the history of Jesuit slaveholding with an intentional focus on the lived experiences of enslaved people, tracing their family lineages with the hope of identifying their descendants. The second goal is to share their ancestors’ stories with living descendants of the enslaved and invite them into a conversation with Jesuits today about how to address this history and its legacy. The third goal is to address the healing question of “Where do we go from here?” We are committed to the transformative process of telling the truth about that history in conversation with descendant communities today.

What have you learned since establishing the project?

Our researchers like to emphasize that when the project started, we only had six names—and only first names—of enslaved people forced to come with Jesuits from Maryland to Missouri in 1823. What we’ve learned since then, through the work of this team of researchers, has included their full names, where they lived, the conditions where they lived, the relationships they built, the ways they tried to protect their families, and so on. The project speaks to the importance of telling those stories, and one of the most wonderful things we’ve learned is that it’s possible to do that. There was some doubt in the beginning that we’d even find anything. Now we’ve uncovered at least 190 descendants of enslaved people owned, rented or borrowed by Jesuits in the central and southern United States between 1823 and 1865.

The words slavery, history and even memory in your project title seem self-explanatory. But what does reconciliation mean?

Father Jeff Harrison has said it’s a word that means confessing sin and expressing remorse for the grave sin of slavery, from a Jesuit and Catholic perspective, but it also acknowledges the ongoing legacy of slavery in racial inequalities which persist today. At the same time, any conversation about what reconciliation means or looks like has to take place with descendants of enslaved people. Our approach from the project perspective is to facilitate conversation with descendants and descendent communities. Our job is to listen. Enslaved people led vibrant lives, but their voices were disregarded, unheard and suppressed. The Jesuits are now open to—and not anticipating—what the response will be; it’s a conversation that has to take place with descendants.

Read the entire interview here.

Joe Biden on Faith and Politics

Biden adOver at Religion News Service, thee former Vice-President and current Democratic candidate for President reflects on the ways his Catholic faith informs his politics.

Here is a taste:

Today’s politics are too toxic, mean and divisive. People are too quick to demonize and dehumanize, too ready to dismiss all that we have in common as Americans.

That’s beneath us as a country. It doesn’t reflect our values; it’s not who we are. That’s why, since I first declared my candidacy for president, I’ve said: I’m running to restore the soul of our nation.

I first learned those values growing up in a Catholic, middle-class family in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Claymont, Delaware. I learned them at my father’s dinner table, at Sunday Mass and at St. Paul’s and Holy Rosary Elementary. The nuns there taught us reading, writing, math and history — as well as core concepts of decency, fair play and virtue. They took as a starting point the teaching from the Gospel of Matthew: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

My whole idea of self and family, of community and the wider world, stems from those lessons. They drilled into me a core truth: Every single human being deserves to be treated with dignity. Everyone. The poor and the powerless, the marginalized and vulnerable, the least of these. That has been the animating principle of my life and my faith.

Scripture is clear: It’s not enough to just wish the world were better. It’s our duty to make it so.

And when my father would remind me, again and again — “Joey, there’s no greater sin than the abuse of power” — I knew: It’s never enough to just abhor or avoid the abuse of power; you have to stand up to end it, wherever it’s found.

That’s what first drew me to public service decades ago — during the civil rights movement, when Americans of all faiths were called on to put our values into action, to fight the heinous abuse of power that is segregation and bigotry.

It’s why I fought to pass the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 — to confront the domestic violence that so many back then tried to dismiss as a “family matter,” and to instead give survivors a voice and a path to justice and recovery.

It’s why I’ve always stood up for working families — for a higher minimum wage and for family and medical leave; for unemployment, overtime pay, collective bargaining rights and workplace safety.

For me, leadership — and basic human decency — has always meant confronting the abuse of power, and fighting back against anyone who exploits the vulnerable for personal gain.

Read the rest here.

Anyone who read this entire piece will notice that abortion is not mentioned.  I want to know how Joe Biden’s Catholic faith informs his views on this moral problem.  What will he do to reduce the number of abortions in America?

Pew Studies 50,000 Christian Sermons

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There is so much here to work through and interpret.

A few quick findings of note:

  • The average sermon is 37 minutes long.
  • The average evangelical sermon is 39 minutes long.
  • The average sermon in an African American church is 54 minutes long.
  • The average sermon in a mainline Protestant church is 25 minutes long
  • The average sermon in a Catholic church is 14 minutes long.

 

  • The most common words in Christian sermons are “say,” “people,” “come,” “know,” “life,” “like,” “God,” “thing,” and “day.”
  • Words associated with evangelicals such as “hell,” “salvation,” “sin, and “heaven” do not appear in evangelical sermons as much as one might think they do.
  • Sermons in historically black churches are distinguished by words related to celebration and praise.
  • Sermons in evangelical and historically black churches quote scripture more than sermons in Catholic and mainline Protestant churches

Read the report here.

Waldman: Immigration is Making the United States a More Christian Nation

latin evangelicalsSteven Waldman, author of Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedommakes a very interesting point in a recent piece at Talking Points Memo.  After mentioning Trump’s anti-immigration policies and his defense of Christianity, Waldman writes: “It’s a stance we’ve come to expect, but there’s an irony to this.  At a moment when more and more Americans are unaffiliated with religion, immigration is providing a counterbalance.”

Here is a taste:

Beyond that, it is well known that for the past few decades Latino immigration has energized, and in some ways saved, the Catholic Church in the United States. About 40 percent of American Catholics are Hispanic, and they’re more likely to say religion is “very important” in their lives than white Catholics.

What’s less acknowledged is that Latinos have also bolstered evangelical communities. Some 16 million evangelicals are Hispanic, and about 15 percent of all immigrants are evangelical.

Beyond the specifics, I’d argue that immigration has been a key factor in strengthening religious freedom in the U.S. New immigrants are more likely to be religious and to say it’s important in their lives than the general population.

Read the entire piece here.

Theodore McCarrick Will Always Be a Priest

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Over at The Conversation, Mathew Schmalz of the College of Holy Cross explains why the disgraced Catholic bishop Theodore McCarrick will continue to be a priest despite his recent defrocking.  Here is a taste:

The Vatican recently “defrocked” Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal  and the retired archbishop of Washington D.C. McCarrick was found guilty of a number of crimes including sexual abuse of minors.

“Defrocking,” as the name suggests, means the removal of the vestments, or clothing, symbolic of being a priest. This process is more formally referred to as “dismissal from the clerical state,” or “laicization.”

In 2014, the Vatican reported that 848 priests had been “defrocked” in the preceding decade for the rape and molestation of children. McCarrick is the highest ranking member of the Catholic Church to be punished in this way in modern times.

Many people might think that in being defrocked McCarrick would no longer remain a priest. That is not so. Catholics don’t understand the priesthood as simply a job that someone can be fired from.

Read the rest here.

Let’s Hope This is a “Teachable Moment” for Covington Catholics

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John Gehring is Catholic program director for Faith in Public Life.  In his recent piece at Commonweal he hopes that Covington Catholic School might view what happened last weekend at the Lincoln Memorial as a “teachable moment.”  Here is a taste of his excellent piece:

After watching the longer video, it’s hard for me to square Phillips’s claim that the white students were going to attack the black men. The students were clearly agitated after being cursed at and ridiculed, but they were not advancing aggressively toward the men. But I was not there and so can’t speak to the fear others felt. Either way, Phillips may well have been right in sensing a potentially escalating situation. While he later explained that his movement toward the group of teenagers was meant to separate the young men from the Hebrew Israelites, in the heat of the moment there is no way the students could have known this, since Phillips never speaks or tries to explain what he is doing. No matter what happened before the moment seen in that segment of the video that went viral, once the two groups came together the students clearly acted with disrespect toward Phillips, displaying an arrogance, ignorance, and sense of superiority all too common among students at largely white prep schools. I wrote about my own experience with the attitudes, cultures, and norms prevalent in that kind of culture a few months ago, as the Brett Kavanaugh hearings unfolded: not as a sweeping indictment of all private schools, but as a reminder that privileged places rarely reflect on their own status in the world because the world is designed for and caters to them. Culture is the water we swim in each day. We don’t see it or question it unless we’re forced to open our eyes.

It’s not a revelation that people can watch the same video or review the same evidence and come away with different conclusions. Our life experiences, race, gender, and sexuality don’t determine who we are, but often influence what we see, omit, prioritize, and categorize. What you observe in this video might have less to do with a camera angle or length of footage than the interpretive lens you bring to issues, a lens that formed long before this incident. The challenge we all face, particularly white men, is this: How do we interrogate our own biases and blind spots?

I worry it’s becoming increasingly difficult to have these tough conversations, harder to slow down, and harder to think before we open rhetorical fire. Everyone knows social media exacerbates this problem. We live in a time when the news cycle never stops, when instant reaction is demanded. Twitter is often less a virtual public square in which substantive ideas are exchanged and debated than a performance space where we showcase our polished outrage and virtue. Instead of encouraging humility, empathy, and reflection, we’re celebrated for our speed, hot takes, and how many ideological opponents we can slay in 280 characters. I’m guilty of not always having the discipline to stop feeding this insatiable beast. Like others who have confessed their own haste on social media in recent days, I could have waited longer before tweeting about this incident and given more space to filling in the picture. But conservatives and MAGA bros who want to lecture liberals or dunk on so-called “PC mobs,” or who think these Catholic students come away from this as victims, need to step back. In aligning themselves with a demagogue who has boasted about assaulting a woman, mocked a disabled reporter, called a sitting member of Congress “Pocahontas,” and said there was blame “on both sides” of a bloody white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, they’re perpetuating a system and culture that celebrates the abuse of power. Make America Great Again hats are not KKK hoods, but you don’t exactly have to hide racism and nativism when the most powerful man in the world gives energy to those forces. Any principal who thinks it’s appropriate for students to wear MAGA clothing to a pro-life rally has thought very little about how this president debases human dignity on a near-daily basis. More broadly, prolife groups that have cozied up to Trump—while his administration caged immigrant kids and his Environmental Protection Agency lets polluters spew toxins that are dangerous to pregnant women—undermine the credibility of the prolife cause.

Once the media spotlight moves on from this latest viral moment, where do we go? Covington Catholic High School and every school now have the opportunity to use this episode to do better. Teach history—including the church’s complicity in white supremacy over the centuries—in a way that helps young people connect the dots between the past and present. Most Catholics, no matter their age, are uninformed about our own institution’s role in exploitation and oppression. “Catholic parishes rarely examine the church’s record of actively participating in the federal government’s conquest and colonization of Native Americans and the West, part of the church’s effort in the 19th and 20th centuries to gain mainstream acceptance in America,” William S. Cossen wrote in the Washington Post last week. Reckoning with this uncomfortable past, he writes, “is essential for coming to terms with the injustices faced by indigenous people both in history and in the 21st century.”

Read the entire piece at Commonweal.

This whole debate seems to come down to this:  If you do not think MAGA hats and shirts are offensive, or believe that it is just fine if a Catholic school allows its students to wear MAGA stuff at a public event and get in the face of a Native American man trying to diffuse a situation, then you will support the boys and think that they did nothing wrong.  If you think that MAGA hats and shirts are offensive because the entire phrase “Make America Great Again” is morally problematic (as I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump), then you will criticize the boys.

But I would take this a step further.  If I had a son who was carrying on like these boys–taking off their shirts, doing racist tomahawk chops, or mocking someone in public–I would bring him home and take him to the woodshed.  I don’t care who provoked him.  I would also be furious with the school and its chaperones for allowing the boys to behave in this way.

Maybe Bruce Springsteen Was Born to Run Home

springsteen netflix

Springsteen on Broadway (courtesy of Netflix)

Religion News Service is running my piece on Catholicism and “home” in “Springsteen on Broadway.” Needless to say, I had fun with this one.

Here is a taste:

Yet, as Springsteen knows all too well, escaping a Catholic past in the Irish and Italian enclaves of working-class New Jersey is not easy. “You know what they say about Catholics … there’s no getting out … (the priests and nuns) did their work hard and they did it well.”

Springsteen understands that the past often has its way with us — shaping us, haunting us, defining us, motivating us and empowering us. Like a priest conducting Mass, he asks the audience to receive the Lord’s Prayer as a “benediction” — perhaps a final blessing from a music legend who was never quite able to outrun the sound of the church bells.

Maybe this is what it means, as he wrote famously in “Born to Run,” to “get to that place where we really want to go” where we can “walk in the sun.” Maybe Bruce Springsteen was born to run home.

Over the years, Springsteen has become the darling of progressive politicians. He campaigned for John Kerry in 2004, Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and (briefly) for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But when he tells his story on Broadway, he transports us back to a day when progressive ideals and the relentless quest for the American dream were not separated from tradition, roots, place, a longing for home, and Christian faith.

Read the entire piece here.

American. Catholic. Historical. Association.

Catholic parishes in Chicago

The American Catholic Historical Association is trying something new this year.  During its annual meeting at the AHA in Chicago some sessions will be devoted to a critical examination of the four words in its name:  “American,” “Catholic,” “Historical,” and “Association.”   Here is a taste of Peter Cajka‘s post at Religion in American History blog:

Over drinks at the 2018 American Catholic Historical Association, a cabal of American religious historians imagined an alternative conference model. Kathleen Holscher, current president of the ACHA, brought the group together through texts and facebook messages.  Several ideas were floated (libations were being consumed), and many quickly discarded as outlandish. Then one of the revolutionaries, John Seitz of Fordham University, proposed a novel approach: what about taking each letter of the ACHA and offering a critical take on that specific word? The words of our organization’s acronym could provide a launching pad for a range of fresh interpretive spins on nationhood, Catholicism the discipline of history, and the actual organization. The panels have been self-consciously created as “Critical” investigations of each term: American. Catholic. Historical. Association.

The plan is a reality. The conference will feature four panels, each one dedicated to a “critical term”:

                             Critical Terms: American (8:30-10:30, Friday)
                             Critical Terms: Catholic (10:30-12:00, Friday)
                             Critical Terms: Historical (8:30-10:30, Saturday)
                             Critical Terms: Association (10:30-12:00, Saturday)

The location and the participants are listed below.

Read the rest here.