The “moral complexity” of Junipero Serra

Serra

Father Junipero Serra, a Franciscan priest who established some of the earliest Spanish missions  in California, has been under attack of late. On June 19, 2020, activists pulled-down a Serra statue in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The following day, activists took down a Serra monument at Father Serra Park in Los Angeles. On July 4, 2020, protesters toppled a Serra statue in Sacramento. Other Serra statues have been removed as well.

As Elizabeth Bruenig writes at The New York Times, “protesters have attacked statues of the saint because they believed he ‘eagerly participated in the conquest of North America, including the torture, enslavement and murder of some of the Native Americans he intended to convert.'”

Serra is a Catholic saint. Pope Francis canonized him in September 2015.

While there is a strong argument for the removal of monuments to Confederate generals and politicians located in public spaces, other cases are more complex. (See, for example, my recent piece on the George Whitefield statue at the University of Pennsylvania). As Bruenig shows, the Serra monuments fall into the latter category. Here is a taste of her piece:

Eva Walters, a founder and executive director of the City of the Angels Kateri Circle, an organization of Native American Catholics, expressed similarly complicated feelings. She was unhappy with Father Serra’s canonization, and does not doubt that what went on in his missions was atrocious. “We know our people, our ancestors, went through that,” she told me. “We know the horrors that happened. We know that.”

And yet Ms. Walters, who comes from the Quechan people of Southern California, was angered by the attacks on Father Serra’s statues. “We were very unhappy about the statues being desecrated, even though we weren’t happy about him being canonized,” she said. “It was not the American Indian Catholics who did that.”

I asked her how she had made such peace with Father Serra’s legacy. “Being Catholic,” she said, “we tend to forgive and pray over these awful things that have happened. We don’t condemn anyone.”

Father Serra would have been among the first to admit he had sinned, having had, according to Dr. Hackel, a routine of frequent self-flagellation. And yet he is still a saint. If conservatives can find some place for the moral complexity of a man like Father Serra, then I hope they can do the same for the racial justice movement that has been associated in some cases with attacks on his image. Catholics should know better than to let imperfections harden their hearts.

Read the entire piece here. Steven Hackel’s piece on Serra in the Los Angeles Times is also worth a read.

Will Evangelicals Rally Around Trump in 2020?

trump-evangelicals

The Washington Post has published a long-form piece by writer Elizabeth Bruenig on Trump and evangelicals. Her work is based on some shoe-leather reporting in Texas during Easter weekend, 2019.  Bruenig talked to court evangelical Robert Jeffress, evangelicals at a small Baptist church, progressive Christians, and members of her own family.

Here is a taste:

However he reached them, Trump has undoubtedly made greater inroads with his evangelical adherents. Jeffress predicted an even bigger win for Trump among evangelicals this time around, surpassing his record-setting success last time; all of the Farmersville Christians were prepared to vote for him in 2020, as was Joe Aguilar. Much depends on the many months between now and the general election, but I would no longer underestimate the possibility that evangelicals will turn out in stronger numbers for a second Trump term than they did in 2016, partly to ensure another Supreme Court pick and partly because the backlash against them has cemented so much of what they already suspected about liberals’ attitudes.

Which raises a series of imponderables: Is there a way to reverse hostilities between the two cultures in a way that might provoke a truce? It is hard to see. Is it even possible to return to a style of evangelical politics that favored “family values” candidates and a Billy Graham-like engagement with the world, all with an eye toward revival and persuasion? It is hard to imagine.

Or was a truly evangelicalpolitics — with an eye toward cultural transformation — less effective than the defensive evangelical politics of today, which seems focused on achieving protective accommodations against a broader, more liberal national culture? Was the former always destined to collapse into the latter? And will the evangelical politics of the post-Bush era continue to favor the rise of figures such as Trump, who are willing to dispense with any hint of personal Christian virtue while promising to pause the decline of evangelical fortunes — whatever it takes? And if hostilities can’t be reduced and a detente can’t be reached, are the evangelicals who foretell the apocalypse really wrong?

Read the entire piece here.

Thanks to Elizabeth Bruening for Reminding Buttigieg Fans that the Religious Left is Not New

Buttigeig

Some of you may recall my recent post, “Pete Buttieig: What is All the Fuss About?” Here is a taste:

[Buttigieg] seems to be following some pretty well-established progressive/liberal/Democratic Christian political candidates, including George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson, Joe Lieberman (if you move beyond Christianity), Hillary Clinton and, of course, Barack Obama. I might even put my former Senator Bill Bradley in this group.

Perhaps it is time that we stop getting so excited about Democratic candidates who can talk about religion. They have been around for a long time.

I am glad to see Elizabeth Bruenig make a similar point yesterday at The Washington Post.  Here is a taste of her piece, “Talk of a rising religious left is unfounded. It already exists“:

Right-wing pundits were apoplectic — Fox News host Laura Ingraham called him “sanctimonious and self-righteous” — but the effect was even greater on the center-left. “Buttigieg is a symbol for a rising Christian left,” one CNN op-ed enthused. “Buttigieg is telling Democrats that they should concede nothing to Republicans on the topics of faith and values . . . because Democrats advance policies that happen to be consistent with our deepest faith traditions,” The Post’s Jennifer Rubin declared. Even Mayor Pete himself seemed to embrace the talk of a revitalized religious left with real electoral power. He told The Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “I think there’s an opportunity hopefully for religion to be not so much used as a cudgel but invoked as a way of calling us to higher values.”

The religious left — perhaps a bloc of Democratic voters waiting to be mobilized, perhaps a segment of faithful people waiting for a leftward awakening — is always just about to happen. It lingers, always, on the horizon, a shadow cast by the electoral power and political clout of the religious right. Will it ever arrive? And what would it look like if it did?

Talk of a rising religious left is puzzling in part because there is an already existing religious left — it just lacks the money, numbers and partisan leverage of the religious right. In 2017, the Pew Research Center found that roughly 59 percent of registered Democratic voters described themselves as Christian, with the single largest bloc inside the Christian set being black Protestants. The presence of these religious voters in the Democratic coalition is probably why so many presidential candidates do engage in faith-talk: Setting Buttigieg aside, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) have also been vocal about their Christian faith on the stump this season. (Indeed, Booker, too, was once hailed as an emblem of the rising religious left.)

Read the entire piece here.  (Thanks to John Haas for bringing it to my attention)