Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Faith-driven morality is always present in our laws

By Ted Furlow, Director
Office of Pastoral Planning

With the passage of healthcare and fi­nancial reform, attention in Washington may now return to the issue of meaningful changes in the immigration laws. With this shift in attention, comes the potential for a renewed national debate over the nature of political action versus moral action…a search for coherence in the voice from the public square and the voice from the pew.

For some, the truth on issues like immi­gration has become a strict constructionist interpretation of the law, absent any sense or consideration of a moral imperative. While we should support the law, what we risk in ignoring its moral implication is de­veloping the narrow view that enshrined “Jim Crow” laws into the sensibilities of the South for generations of destructive bigotry.

Those who believe that there is an im­penetrable wall between church and state would do well to revisit their history books. Rousseau, whose political thought perme­ated the new American polity, introduced the notion of civil religion in his work, The Social Contract wherein he outlined the simple dogma of a belief in God, a life to come, the rewards of virtue and the pun­ishment of vice, and the exclusion of re­ligious intolerance. Our founding fathers were deeply invested in this sense of civil religion, their understanding of God and the presence of their faith is evident in our founding documents.

Many of the percepts of Jeffersonian democracy are found in the Declaration of Independence, in which Jefferson en­shrined the famous phrase that defines American polity, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal… endowed by their creator with cer­tain unalienable rights.”

The right of all men, granted to them by their creator is a concept that framed the American experiment in democracy for John Courtney Murray, a preeminent American Catholic theologian of the mid-twentieth century. Murray offered that the strength of democracy rested in a moral consensus rooted in those transcendent rights. Because he felt that the moral con­sensus was foundational to democracy, Murray believed that substantive and civil dialogue within the American society on key issues was necessary for democracy’s survival. As an active participant in the moral consensus, the Church has long held a seat in that dialogue, with its moral and social teaching providing point and coun­ter point in the formation of democratic thought. The discussion is not just a re­quirement of faithful citizenship; it is an obligation of moral leadership.

Locally, the increasing presence of non-English speakers in church communities has been a simmering issue. An example is a recent article in the San Bernardino Sun, which detailed the disaffection of some members at a local parish over the influx and a displacement caused by Spanish speakers, and the changes that they have made in the long term patterns of worship and social life. The shift from carnivals to fiestas, to culturally important feast days, and to foreign language masses, may not seem the stuff of obstacle to some, but to those who view constancy, and habit of practice as faith, it is unsettling.

This sense of the loss of place will un­doubtedly be exacerbated by the upcom­ing results of the current Census 2010. By any prediction, the numbers should show a significant increase of Hispanic popula­tion in our diocese, segueing them into the largest demographic block in the two coun­ties. The image of predominantly Anglo, English speaking demographic dominance is about to dissipate in the face of change, and in that change, perhaps a new defini­tion will emerge of what it means to be a minority.


A political and moral discussion is about to be renewed, and each of us will have to find someplace reasoned to stand in the dialogue that follows. Perhaps a safe place will be within the words of the Holy Father who, preaching from Castle Gandolfo in early July, recalled the words found in chapter 10 of Luke, “Who is my neighbor?” According to Jesus, our neighbor is anyone in need, especially the most marginalized. It is a good beginning, and a place to stand in Murray’s “civil dialogue”.

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We encourage dialogue in the spirit of Christian fellowship, however any offensive, hostile or messages that go beyond the scope of the blog topic will be censored.

Alentamos el diálogo en un espíritu de compañerismo cristiano, sin embargo, cualquier ofensiva, hostil o mensajes que van más del tema del blog será censurado.