American Catholics and Faith in Public Life
We have met the enemy and they are us
By Stephanie Block
Back in 2000, Bishop Loverde canceled two speakers scheduled for a Women’s Spirituality Series in his diocese. There names were Diann Neu and Mary Hunt. Explaining his decision in the diocesan newspaper, the bishop wrote that Neu and Hunt “are co-founders and co-directors of an organization which calls itself WATER (Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual)…. Dr. Hunt refers to herself ‘as a Catholic feminist liberation theologian, pro-choice and lesbian.’ …. Neu has authored a prayer service referred to as ‘liturgy’ and called ‘Eucharist’ in its call to celebration….A version of this service was celebrated at a Call to Action conference in Detroit, MI and at a Women-Church Convergence meeting in Washington, D.C.”
A videotape of Neu’s liturgical ritual workshop at the 1996 Call to Action conference included an imitation of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Mother and Father who is everywhere, holy be your name. May your new age come.”
Discussing abortion, Neu asked, “What about abortion liturgy? When women make a very difficult choice, the community needs to support that choice. We don’t have to make a judgment on what choice is right or wrong. We need to support any one of us who makes a choice for whatever reason.”
These were not speakers who deserved Catholic support or the use of Catholic resources. Bishop Loverde made a responsible decision.
So what is WATER doing in a political coalition with the Maryland Catholic Conference? The name of the coalition is Faith in Public Life – a network of progressively-minded institutions banded to “fight the right” by creating “strategic partnerships” and developing coordinated actions.
What is the “right” they are fighting?
Looking at the organizations that have joined Faith in Public Life gives a good idea. There are at least 150 groups in the Faith in Public Life network concerned with “gay rights,” for instance. Besides the above-mentioned WATER, there are also at least 27 Dignity chapters and 18 Soulforce chapters. Dignity is an organization that specifically targets the Roman Catholic Church, seeking nothing less than a complete reversal of Church moral teaching about sexuality and sin. Soulforce has a broader mission and targets all organized religion. It seeks “freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance” and claims that it is a misuse of religion and spiritual violence “to sanction the condemnation and rejection of any of God’s children.” Both Dignity and Soulforce seek full legal protection of same-sex marriages.
Does this mean that the Maryland Catholic Conference is supporting the legalization of same-sex marriage? Yes, it does. By helping to place progressive-minded politicians in office, by putting the force of its reputation as a religious representative of the Holy, Roman Catholic Church behind these politicians, they are supporting same-sex marriage.
How about the Minnesota Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice – an organization that “seeks to ensure that every woman is free to make decisions about having children according to her own conscience and religious beliefs” – and the Minnesota Catholic Conference? What’s their common denominator?
Same answer: Faith in Public Life. Both are members of the coalition.
Along with lots of other self-identifying “Catholic” groups in Minnesota – Catholic Charities and various Catholic Relief Service offices around the state – they have banded together with organizations that seek to destroy Catholicism, namely local Call to Action chapters. Call to Action was first convened in the 1970s to demand the Church change its positions on abortion, contraception, homosexuality, and episcopal hierarchy. It had a new vision of a “peoples’ church” that was social-justice oriented – as they defined social justice – with every parish belonging to an ecumenical community organization.
Interestingly enough, the ecumenical community organizations receiving lots of Catholic money and made up of many Catholic parishes are part of Faith in Public Action, too.
Does this mean that the Minnesota Catholic Conference and the various Minnesota Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Service offices (all members of Faith in Public Life) are supporting abortion rights? Yes, it does. By helping to place progressive-minded politicians in office, by putting the force of their reputation as religious representatives of the Holy, Roman Catholic Church behind these politicians, they are supporting abortion rights.
Looking state by state at the map of organizations affiliated with Faith in Public Life, one observes the same uncomfortable networking taking place all over the country. Call to Action chapters, homosexual activist groups, ecumenical community organizations, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities, and progressive political organizations are uniting to “fight the right:”
- Missouri: The Faith in Public Life network includes the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis, Catholic Campaign for Human Development funded Gamaliel community organizations (Churches United for Community Action, Churches Committed to Community Concerns, ISAIAH, and Metropolitan Congregations United) and PICO community organizations (Kansas City Church Community Organization), the St. Louis office of Catholic Charities, and the Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City on one side and homosexual and/or abortion rights organizations such as Dignity St. Louis, the National Conference for Community and Justice, and two chapters of Progressive Christians on the other.
- New Mexico: The Faith in Public Life network includes three chapters of Call to Action as well as 10 chapters of the Call to Action affiliate Pax Christi, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development funded Industrial Areas Foundation community organization (Albuquerque Interfaith), Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Social Services, Dignity NM, the Diocese of Las Cruces Social Ministry, and the Archdiocese of Santa Fe Office of Social Justice.
- Florida: The Faith in Public Life network includes three chapters of Call to Action as well as 9 chapters of the Call to Action affiliate Pax Christi, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development funded DART community organization (People Acting for Community Together and Sarasota United for Responsibility and Equity), 6 Catholic Charities offices, 7 Catholic Relief Services offices, 5 Dignity chapters, Soulforce, and the Network of Spiritual Progressives.
There are 44 states in the Faith in Public Life network. In each, Catholic organizations – often directly related to diocesan offices – are engaged in political fellowship with groups that were created explicitly and deliberately to destroy Catholic moral teaching.
Who’s Running This Show?
Of course, Faith in Public Life will argue that abortion and same-sex marriage is precisely what it isn’t addressing – unlike the “religious right.” Faith in Public Life issues, by contrast, are “social and economic justice,” although many of its 2470 affiliate groups will tell you that abortion and homosexual rights are social and economic justice issues.
That’s apparent by examining the policy positions of those who speak for Faith in Public Life. Its Media Bureau (Voicing Faith) is studded with people for whom these are critical battlegrounds.
For example, Rev. Tim Ahrens of the United Church of Christ and Cantor Jack Chomsky, who is Jewish, are not only spokesmen for Faith in Public Life but poster boys (actually, in organizational jargon, the first “case study”) for the sort of successful network-action Faith in Public Life hopes to replicate all over the US. The two are leaders in the Cleveland-based We Believe Ohio organization, which was founded by people “seeking to define their faith, and their politics, outside of the domain of the religious right.”
During a radio interview, Ahrens said that while the religious right calls gay marriage and abortion the moral issues of the day, his view is: “The greatest moral issue of our day is poverty.” How does that play out in Ahrens politics, however? A July 14, 2006 Press Release issued by his We Believe Ohio group denounced political campaign tactics using religion as a weapon of attack. Specifically, they decried a Republican assessment of Congressman Ted Strickland as a “minister who admits he doesn’t even attend church” but has voted against legislation that would protect traditional marriage, against abstinence education programs, and for same-sex marriages.
So this is how it works: the person who supports same-sex marriage may flaunt his faith because he is promoting “social justice.” The person who upholds the traditional moral teachings of his faith traditions is “narrow” and “hateful” and has no right to call upon his traditions to support his political positions.
Kim Bobo is another Faith in Public Life speaker. She is a Call to Action speaker who founded the Chicago-based Interfaith Worker Justice. She also sees “conservative Christian forces monopolizing the morality-in-politics debate around such issues as abortion rights and same-sex marriage.” To counter this, Bobo helped write the manual How to Win: A Practical Guide for Defeating the Radical Right in Your Community. The manual specifically identifies pro-lifers as “radical right,” naming groups such as the American Life League, and provides materials in support of abortion and gay “rights” and a host of other issues.
Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS, current national coordinator for the “Catholic” social justice lobby NETWORK is a Faith in Public Life speaker. NETWORK also has Call to Action ties and a long, sordid history of connections to pro-abortion and homosexual activism.
Then there’s Sr. Joan Chittister, who made headlines in 2001 for delivering the keynote address at the Women’s Ordination Worldwide Conference in direct defiance of a Vatican request, is another Faith in Public Life “leader.” In addition to advocating a Catholic female priesthood and dissent against Church doctrine, Chittister is a Call to Action speaker and supports abortion as a woman’s “right.”
The National Council of Churches (NCC) is represented in Faith in Public Life through its general secretary, Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar, a United Methodist minister. In 2004, the NCC proposed 10 “Christian Principles in an Election Year” that it hoped all politicians could embrace. Deliberately absent were issues “on which churches aren’t united – among them, abortion and gay marriage.”
We have Rev. Dr. Eric Elnes, whose Faith in Public Life expertise is in the topic of homosexuality and the Church. Dr. Elnes is co-president of CrossWalk, a group whose purpose is “to arouse public consciousness to the misuse of Christianity in American life today. [CrossWalk activists] are Christians who want to reclaim their faith from what they believe are the distortions of the ‘Religious Right,’ that so often appears to interpret Christianity in narrow, prejudiced and even hate-filled ways….They seek to raise awareness to the fact that fundamentalists, in both Catholic and Protestant forms, do not by themselves define American Christianity. They are embarrassed by the present alliance of political conservatives with fundamentalist Christians, who seek to impose a sectarian and moralistic religious mentality upon our population. They are offended that negativity to homosexual persons and opposition to the century long quest by women for equality and the right to define their own life choices, are now in the public mind, the defining essence of their faith. This enterprise, known as CrossWalkAmerica, is the vehicle through which they seek to educate America.”
Another Faith in Public Life speaker is Rev. Debra Haffner, director of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, a sexologist and an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister. According to her Institute’s principles, faith communities must “advocate for sexual and spiritual wholeness,” which calls for “a faith-based commitment to sexual and reproductive rights, including access to voluntary contraception, abortion” and “full inclusion of …sexual minorities in congregational life, including their ordination and the blessing of same-sex unions.”
One of the most intriguing Faith in Public Life speakers is Dr. Glen H. Stassen who, according to Faith in Public Life autobiographical information, has “written extensively about the link between rising abortion rates and detrimental Bush economic policies.” His analysis has been seriously challenged, but outrageousness of the assertion is irresistible.
Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite, president of the Chicago Theological Seminary, can speak on behalf of Faith in Public Life to the topic of religion in public life. In an address to the Planned Parenthood National Meeting Interfaith Prayer Breakfast, Washington, D.C., March 31, 2006, Thistlewaite spends a lot of thought on the Catholic Church and its position on abortion: “My overall premise is that political strategists are manipulating religious faith in an unprecedented way in our times…. despite reactionary religion and my own and I’m sure others’ defensive reaction, I want, within the space of this presentation at least, to create a space to think theologically in a non-reactive way about reproductive rights….. Radically conservative Christianity, on the other hand, has flatly declared that the soul is implanted immediately at the moment the egg and the sperm meet. This is currently the position not only of Protestant fundamentalists and many evangelicals, but also of the Catholic Church…. even for those who regard all abortion as the taking of human life, there is still moral precedent within especially of Christian thinking on war and peace to allow abortion. Christians have written at length on when it may be considered moral to engage in war—this is Just War theory. Frances Kissling made a cogent argument in 1991 that if war can be just, then abortion must be also.”
And then one comes to the organizers. Greg Galluzzo, national director of the faith-based organizing network Gamaliel, is a Faith in Public Life speaker on that same topic. Rabbi Jonah Presner represents the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) network. These community organizing networks get millions of dollars from faith-based poverty collections like the Catholic Campaign for Human Development to draw congregations – a high percentage of them Catholic – into the progressive network. That’s abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
One could go on but it’s almost too much to absorb.
The ironic and tragic conclusion is that Catholics, with a clear and deliberate mandate to fight the secular culture of death, have become pawns in the hands of their enemies. Even good, solid bishops, who would never knowingly give Communion to a pro-abortion politician, seem unaware of how the Church in their diocese is being used.
There’s a hopeful side to this, however. Faith in Public Life has unwittingly done a service to pro-lifers by alerting them to the deadly connections that have been operating for years but have been difficult to demonstrate and were therefore difficult to oppose. However, it’s out in the open now for all to see: “we have met the enemy and they are us.”
In a Nutshell
Faith in Public Life is a national coalition with member organizations in every state.
- Faith in Public Life includes official Catholic organizations – that is, organizations that are in good standing with their dioceses and operate under the authority of their local bishop.
- Faith in Public Life exists to fight any political attempt on the part of religious bodies (particularly the Catholic Church) to oppose abortion or homosexual “rights.”
- Many Faith in Public Life member organizations and spokespeople are abortion or homosexual “rights” advocates – that is, their sole political effort is to sustain legal abortion or obtain homosexual “equality.”
- Some Faith in Public Life member organizations specifically target Catholic moral teaching about abortion and homosexuality, seeking to change it.
 Paul Loverde, Bishop of the Diocese of Arlington, “Bishop Cancels Speaker Series at Dominica Retreat House,” Catholic Herald, 2000.
 Don Lattin, “Pushing Poverty into ‘moral-values’ debate: Some religious leaders trying to broaden description beyond abortion and marriage,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 12, 2004.
 Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing
 Wm. Robert Johnston, “Analysis of a claimed increase in post-2000 U.S. abortions,” December 29, 2005