May 24 was (Authentic) Religious Liberty Day (at least it was here), but the Administration has some strange ideas about how to mark it. Like: turn it upside down & inside out.
That day it releaseda proposed federal rule that would deny transgender persons many of the medical benefits and legal protections they gained in the Obama years. The proposal is one more chapter in the continuing drive to roll back just about everything the previous administration achieved or initiated. (Full text of the proposed rule is here.)
Much of what we’ve published in the journal Quaker Theology has been about people, mostly Quakers, past and present. This may be unusual in theological journals, but Quakerism is very much a lived religion, embodied in people, their witness, and their thought.
[The first 32 issues of Quaker Theology are all online here [www.quakertheology.org], available to all in searchable form. The 20th Anniversaryissue, #33, is now ready at Amazon (https://tinyurl.com/y26gmlbj ), and will be on the web soon. ]
Theology is about more than persons, though; it also deals with ideas. And while theological notions are often arcane and tedious, some can be startling, even shocking. At least several times in this effort they have shocked this editor. Many of these shocks came from reading and reviewing books. (It does help if a theologian is something of a book nerd.)
For instance, the most acute critique of the reigning ideology of permanent war that has possessed America’s rulers since at least 2001came to my desk not from a liberal or left-winger, but from their polar opposite, a strict evangelical-fundamentalist and libertarian named Laurence M. Vance.
Nightmare Number one, wide awake: In the summer of 1959, my father, an Air Force bomber pilot, was transferred to a base near Cheyenne, Wyoming.
There my mother sent me and several of my siblings to St. Mary’s, the Catholic school downtown. It was across the street from the state Capitol. St. Mary’s was run by Dominican nuns, whose convent was next door.
I could have objected, but thought better of it. Although I had become more or less an atheist, I was also a senior: one year left. I figured to keep my head down, get through it, then escape to college somewhere.
Far away in Rome, a new pope was settling in, replacing the late Pius XII. Pius had taken over in 1939, three years before I was born. When I thought about Pius, which was rarely, he had seemed like a permanent fixture, as solid as the thick stone walls of the old church in Kansas where I was baptized, as unmoving as the statues there yearning toward their timeless crucified Christ.
But no, Pius was a mere mortal, and his successor, John XXIII, was quietly preparing to shake up the church’s seemingly impregnable status quo. I mention these items, not because anything about them had penetrated my teenage male brain, but rather because I realize now that our nuns, an educated and alert group, were no doubt keenly aware of them. In fact, this must have been a very exciting year for them: not only was there a new pope, but Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy was making a serious run at becoming the first Catholic U. S. President in 1960. Continue reading A Tale of Two Nightmares: One Asleep, One Wide Awake→
Another Eminent Pacifist leader Is Gone: David McReynolds
I only sort of knew David McReynolds, but he hovered significantly in the background of peace work during my apprenticeship in the Vietnam years.
My most vivid memory of David was not a personal encounter, but in the pages of WIN Magazine, a “radical pacifist” journal published by the War Resisters League. In 1969 he joined several other elder eminences in coming out there. These were the first confrontations I had had with homosexuals as sympathetic figures and colleagues.
His article was more personal than political, often embarrassed about how much his struggles in and out of the closet had cut into his driving impulse to organize nonviolent action against war and imperialism. Its candor and humility cut right through my unthinking, reflexive homophobia, pointing a way forward from it which I have worked ever since to follow.
Let’s review: In February of this year, officials at Friends Central School in Philadelphia abruptly canceled a speaking engagement by a Palestinian Quaker peace studies professor, then suspended and later fired the two teachers who had planned the visit. Much public controversy ensued.
In May, the two former teachers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, alleging discrimination and retaliation by Friends Central.
Earlier posts on the Friends Central School controversy are:
Early last month, Friends Central’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, on the grounds that the two teachers had “failed to state a valid claim,” and that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would see the court become “entangled” in a religious dispute, which is prohibited by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
On July 31, the teachers’ attorney, Mark Schwartz, filed his response. Prosaically titled, “PLAINTIFFS’ MEMORANDUM OF LAW IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT,” it asserted that to the contrary, the teachers’ complaint did state valid claims, further that pursuing it would not require any impermissible meddling in religious doctrines, and that the motion to dismiss should be denied and the case be moved to its next phase, which is discovery of documents and other background, in preparation for a trial.Continue reading Friends Central School Lawsuit: The Fired Teachers Begin to Make Their Case→
I’m a long way from the Mexican border. But like many others, I can’t tear my eyes away from it, via the media. Many journalists are doing fine work this week, bringing the rending of families there into sharp focus. Here’s a sampling; hope the images and text make some impact.
From the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger, an immigration lawyer recounted her border visit a few days ago:
Amelia McGowan, program director and immigration attorney at Migrants Support Center though Catholic Charities in Jackson:
Conversing in Spanish to many of the people seeking asylum, McGowan discovered they had heard rumors about U.S. officials separating children from their parents. And yet they stayed. At the time, the news was not widely reported.
“It seemed like this was a choice they had to make, they had no other choice — for their own survival and for their children’s survival,” McGowan said.
Many of those seeking asylum have traveled for days, seeking legal refuge from abuse or gang violence. With the Monday announcement from Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the U.S. would no longer provide asylum to victims of domestic abuse or gang violence, the refuge they seek will likely not be found in the U.S.
Many are being turned away at the border and told to come back another day. Under a new “zero tolerance” policy, the ones who cross the border without papers or authorization are immediately separated from their children, charged with a misdemeanor crime and sent to detention centers before their deportation hearing. They face up to six months in prison.
Where are the children?
Reports have surfaced of border agents telling parents their children are being taken to bathe. Only hours later do they realize their children are not coming back.
For many of the men detained, they face a mass-production form of “justice” in the nearby federal court. From the New York Times:
TUCSON, Ariz. — They filed into the room seven by seven for a dose of rapid-fire justice: In less than a minute and in quick succession, each migrant pleaded guilty to illegally entering the United States, and was sentenced.
They were overwhelmingly Central American and Mexican men, many of them still in the dusty, sweaty garb they had been wearing when they were caught by Border Patrol agents. They looked dazed, tired and resigned to their fate, many having just completed a harsh trek across the sweltering Mexican desert. Some of their heads drooped as they listened to the judge.
“Good afternoon, my name is Bernardo Velasco, the judge assigned to conduct this proceeding. You are being represented by a lawyer at no cost to you because you are charged with the criminal offense of illegal entry,” the judge told the defendants.
Then he turned to the lawyers: “Counsels, have your clients made a decision to waive their right to a trial and enter guilty pleas?” The lawyers responded in unison, “Yes, your honor.” . . .
There have been many photos of children in detention. The shell of a closed Wal-Mart is among the most notorious. A local TV station had an extensive report:
“. . . as of Wednesday, ORR [federal Office of Refugee Resettlement] spokesman Brian Marriott said, the office was holding 11,351 children in more than 100 shelters across 17 states.
At the Casa Padre shelter, which opened last year, the surge in numbers has been palpable. In March, the nonprofit Southwest Key Programs, which also operates 26 other shelters in Texas, Arizona and California, had a capacity of 1,186, according to a licensing document posted in the shelter. More recently, as children flooded into the system, they had to get a variance from Texas regulators to boost its capacity temporarily to 1,497. The average population of the shelter has jumped by nearly 300 in less than a month, said Martin Hinojosa, director of compliance for Southwest Key Programs.
Today, the shelter is almost at capacity again. Five cot-like beds have been squeezed into bedrooms built originally for four.
Juan Sanchez, the founder and president of Southwest Key Programs, refused to discuss the “zero-tolerance” policy.
“Our goal is to reunite these children with their families as soon as we can do that,” he told reporters Wednesday. He said that more than 70% of the 5,129 children at Southwest Key Programs shelters were unaccompanied, rather than separated from their parents. However, he conceded that the number of children separated was rising.
Reporters allowed to visit the Casa Padre shelter had to agree to preconditions, including that no cameras, phones or recording devices were allowed. Officials also declined to allow interviews with children or employees of the shelter.
The massive shelter retains a warehouse vibe — noisy but highly organized, with scores of staffers leading skeins of boys to various activities. In recreation rooms, some boys watched a soccer match on TV; some took part in a tai chi class; others played pool or foosball (in one case with a cue ball). Still others sat in classrooms. Because of the crowding, the boys attend school in six-hour morning or afternoon shifts, five days a week. The bedrooms reporters were shown seemed antiseptically clean.”
MSNBC corresponding Jacob Soboroff, who visited the facility, tweeted;
I have been inside a federal prison and county jails. This place is called a shelter but these kids are incarcerated. No cells and no cages, and they get to go to classes about American history and watch Moana, but they’re in custody.
However, plans have since been announced that more child detainees will be herded into tent camps — in daytime temperatures that are typically 100+ degrees.
Audio of separated children wailing for their parents, recorded clandestinely and released by ProPublica, has been released. It’s here:
Propublica: “The desperate sobbing of 10 Central American children, separated from their parents one day last week by immigration authorities at the border, makes for excruciating listening. Many of them sound like they’re crying so hard, they can barely breathe. They scream “Mami” and “Papá” over and over again, as if those are the only words they know.
The baritone voice of a Border Patrol agent booms above the crying. “Well, we have an orchestra here,” he jokes. “What’s missing is a conductor.”
Then a distraught but determined 6-year-old Salvadoran girl pleads repeatedly for someone to call her aunt. Just one call, she begs anyone who will listen. She says she’s memorized the phone number, and at one point, rattles it off to a consular representative. “My mommy says that I’ll go with my aunt,” she whimpers, “and that she’ll come to pick me up there as quickly as possible.”
[This] audio recording obtained by ProPublica adds real-life sounds of suffering to a contentious policy debate that has so far been short on input from those with the most at stake: immigrant children. More than 2,300 of them have been separated from their parents since April, when the Trump administration launched its “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which calls for prosecuting all people who attempt to illegally enter the country and taking away the children they brought with them. More than 100 of those children are under the age of 4. The children are initially held in warehouses, tents or big box stores that have been converted into Border Patrol detention facilities. . . .”
The audio was played by a reporter during a White House press briefing, while Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen was defending the policy. Nielsen did not respond to it.
Events are moving so fast that these snippets may be obsolete by now. And there were lots more today, but this is enough for one post.
For a long time I’ve felt that much of the deepest internal struggles in American culture have religious roots.
Sure, there’s also politics, class, race, gender and empire involved as well. But take off your Bubble-colored glasses and look closer, and religion pops up in most of these contexts too.
Further, one passage, Romans 13:1-7, has long been close to the center of these conflicts. It equates worldly rulers, and their use of “the sword”, with God’s divine order. and has long been used to support whichever ruler a preacher most favors.
I didn’t plan to do a followup to the previous post on the Bible and defending slavery.
But there’s been something tragicomic in the scramble by some reporters to get churchy rebuttals to the use, by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, echoed by press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, of the Bible to defend their latest, cruelest border policy of splitting up families and penning up children. This scramble also brings up some similar issues & dilemmas.
“The Bible does not justify cruel, dangerous and inhumane border enforcement practices,” said Diane Randall, Executive Secretary for FCNL. “It teaches us to love our neighbors, not to break up families. We are critical of the use of Biblical teachings to justify an immoral political decision of this Administration.”
Double Irony Time:
The Southern Baptist Convention just adopted a resolution condemning the view that the Bible supports slavery, which was the main premise on which the SBC was founded back in 1845. To back up this new view, it cites Bible verses used by 18th Century abolitionists to condemn slavery, which the early SBC long & steadfastly denounced as heretical, subversive, etc. That’s Irony #1.