Tag Archives: social justice

Gun control and the pro-life movement

Last fall, Chicago Archbishop Blaise Cupich said gun violence is “a pro-life issue and should be front and center with all of the others.” He makes an important point.

Mark Brumley

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were some 33,636 gun-related deaths in the U.S. recorded in 2013. While some people, perhaps oversensitive to Second Amendment concerns, may recoil at calling gun violence a “pro-life” issue, the fact that it involves the taking of human life, whether intentionally or by accident, makes it one.

What to do about it? Faithful Catholics disagree. Some call for more regulation while others question the value of the same or contend such laws unjustly undercut gun owners’ rights. Archbishop Cupich himself is a strong gun-control advocate, as is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. We find here the challenging issue of disagreement on political matters among Catholics equally committed to Church teaching. I say “equally committed to Church teaching” because disagreement can also arise from rejection of such teaching. That’s not what I mean. Well-formed, knowledgeable, and committed Catholics sometimes reasonably disagree on a subject — even when they agree on fundamental principles. That fact doesn’t mean there is no right answer on the subject, although it may mean the answer isn’t obvious.

Regarding the political dimension of “pro-life issues,” the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago used the image of the “seamless garment” as his “take” on the more general notion of a consistent life ethic. (The term “seamless garment” comes from John 19:23’s reference to Jesus’ garment, often taken as a metaphor for Church unity.)

Most pro-life Catholics think a consistent life ethic is important — the alternative being an inconsistent one! But they sometimes disagreed about how to understand the Seamless Garment approach. Are all issues touching on human life equally important? Can we disagree about some approaches and still be committed to a consistent life ethic? Not all threats to human life are equally grave, acknowledge most Seamless Garment supporters. Nor, they admit, must everybody agree on the best way to protect human life in all instances. Critics reply that, in practice, the Seamless Garment philosophy often comes across as a list of policy stances on which everybody who wants rightly to claim the name “pro-life” must agree.

Moreover, we shouldn’t confuse issues — even those rightly included as “pro-life” concerns. Take gun control. A consistent ethic of life doesn’t create a set of obvious policy positions on gun violence. Within certain limits, reasonable committed to the dignity of the human person, might come to different conclusions about how to solve the problem.

In this regard, we should resist the temptation to hurl slogans at those with whom we disagree. For example, accusing someone who opposes abortion, but doesn’t accept strict gun control of being “anti-abortion” rather than “pro-life.” Or dismissing a gun-control advocate as a “peace and justice” Catholic rather than a “pro-lifer.”

It’s possible to be inconsistently pro-life — to affirm the principle of respect for human life in one instance, but to fail to do so in another: to be, say, anti-abortion but not consistently pro-life. But rejecting certain legal restrictions on guns as a means of reducing gun violence doesn’t automatically make one “anti-abortion” rather than “pro- life.” Likewise, it’s possible to pursue social justice and reduction of gun violence while ignoring the over one million abortions annually in the U.S. But just because one works against gun violence doesn’t necessarily mean one doesn’t care about abortion.

“Often enough the Christian view of things will itself suggest some specific solution in certain circumstances,” notes Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes. “Yet it happens rather frequently, and legitimately so, that with equal sincerity some of the faithful will disagree with others on a given matter. Even against the intentions of their proponents, however, solutions proposed on one side or another may be easily confused by many people with the Gospel message. Hence it is necessary for people to remember that no one is allowed in the aforementioned situations to appropriate the Church’s authority for his opinion. They should always try to enlighten one another through honest discussion, preserving mutual charity and caring above all for the common good” (#43).

Some people may dislike calling gun violence a “pro-life issue,” but it is. Yet we mustn’t be quick to equate our political solution to the problem with the “pro-life” position and dismiss others as not “pro- life.” A thoughtful, vigorous, yet charitable discussion on the subject can also be “pro-life.”

MARK BRUMLEY is the author of “The Seven Deadly Sins of Apologetics” and the former director of Social Ministries for the Diocese of San Diego. He is also president of Ignatius Press.

Business and the option for the poor

SAM GREGG writes that lifting people out of poverty — and not just material poverty but also moral and spiritual poverty — does not necessarily mean that the most effective action is to implement yet another welfare program. There is no reason to assume that the preferential option for the poor is somehow a preferential option for big government . . .

Sam Gregg

Sam Gregg

Like the term “social justice,” the phrase “preferential option for the poor” is part of the Catholic lexicon. Some use the phrase to insist on interventionist economic policies. Catholic social teaching, however, leads to more nuanced conclusions — economically and theologically.

The term “option for the poor” gained traction in Catholic thought in the late 1960s and ’70s. The term had influenced various forms of liberation theology throughout that period, but such claims tend to downplay the fact that the Church has always maintained a special outreach to the poor.

Old Testament prophets spoke clearly against the oppression of the poor, not to mention Christ’s statements that he himself may be recognized in the poor and in those who suffer persecution. Moreover, love for the poor and marginalized was put into practice from the Church’s genesis. In the Roman Empire, for example, the pagan Greeks and Romans were astonished at Catholics’ willingness to aid the sick and disabled, the elderly and abandoned whether they were Christians or not.

The Catholic understanding of poverty, however, doesn’t make the mistake of imagining that poverty can be reduced to issues of material deprivation. In the 1980s, in the midst of the Church’s sharpest critique of liberation theology influenced by Marxism, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) reminded Catholics that poverty had a rather more expansive meaning in Christian belief, thought and action.

From Christianity’s standpoint, everyone is poor inasmuch that all of us are deeply inadequate in the face of God’s justice and mercy. Why else would Christ need to come into the world to save us from our sins and flaws? Indeed the Christian embrace of poverty involves everyone exercising detachment from material wealth: “It is this sort of poverty, made up of detachment, trust in God, sobriety and a readiness to share, that Jesus declared blessed” (Libertatis Conscientia, #67)

What does living out the option for the poor mean in practice? We must engage in works of charity — those activities that often address specific dimensions of poverty in ways that no state program ever could. And this means giving of our time, energy, and human and monetary capital in ways that bring Christ’s light into some of the darkest places on earth.

Yet this does not mean that Catholics are required to give something to everything, or even that Catholics must give away everything they own. As Fr. James Schall, SJ, writes, “If we take all the existing world wealth and simply distribute it, what would happen? It would quickly disappear; all would be poor.” Put another way, living out the option for the poor may well involve those people with a talent for creating wealth doing precisely that.

The option for the poor, however, does not rule out any form of government assistance to those in need. Yet lifting people out of poverty — and not just material poverty but also moral and spiritual poverty — does not necessarily mean that the most effective action is to implement yet another welfare program. There is no reason to assume that the preferential option for the poor is somehow a preferential option for big government. Often, being an entrepreneur and starting a business which brings jobs, wages, and opportunities to places where they did not hitherto exist is a greater exercise of love for the poor (and usually far more economically effective) than another government welfare initiative.

The Catholic understanding of the option for the poor also means recognizing that those who suffer from material deprivation are human beings graced with reason and free will. Hence, like everyone else, they are  also capable of engaging in some form of integral human flourishing. Sometimes a welfare program or new regulation is not the best way to help them — especially when such measures actually impede or discourage people from using their initiative and/or choosing to work.

Though we rarely think about it this way, deregulation is often a concrete way to promote the option for the poor. Living out the option for those in need could be manifested, for example, in working to remove tariffs that block the poor from global markets, or which encourage people to stay in U.S. industries that are becoming uncompetitive in a global economy. It might also involve making the process of creating a business faster, or providing more transparent, less bureaucratically burdensome ways for people to migrate to countries where there are more opportunities.

There are many ways of living out the option for the poor, whatever our vocation in life. With some of the creativity that’s essential for success of business, Catholics can indeed help bring liberty to many of those burdened by poverty.

DR. SAMUEL GREGG is research director at the Acton Institute and the author, most recently, of Becoming Europe and Tea Party Catholic.

Poverty, social justice, and the role of business

Michael Miller writes that governments can help by providing clear private property rights, rule of law and justice. But they cannot create wealth. The Church is essential because it helps build a moral culture that supports strong families and vibrant communities. But the Church’s function is not to create wealth. Wealth is created through entrepreneurship . . .

Michael M. Miller

What role should the business leader and the entrepreneur play in helping the poor and promoting social justice in the developing world? As Legatus celebrates its 25th anniversary and looks forward to the future, this is an important question for reflection.

When we look at the reality of poverty in the developing world, the statistics can be overwhelming. Over 2 billion people live on less than $2 per day, and hundreds of millions are hungry. The Church lists almsgiving, fasting and prayer as the “three eminently good works.” All Christians, no matter our state in life, are called to be detached from material things and to be generous with our wealth. But what else can we do? Is there a specific place for business leaders in helping the poor?

In my experience, I don’t hear much about the role of business with regard to poverty and social justice. I find an implicit — if not explicit — suspicion about business as if it’s somehow part of the problem and cause of poverty. In fact, several businesspeople have told me that they don’t have much to say or contribute to these discussions. They’re missing the important role that business leaders and entrepreneurs can play in helping the poor — not only by giving alms, but by forming partnerships with the poor, training, investing and helping to build businesses.

Poverty is complex and there are many needs that require all sorts of skills and gifts. Emergency assistance has its place, but the way to alleviate poverty in the long run is for people in the developing world to create wealth and prosperity for their families and communities. When we think about the developing world, we often wonder why such poverty exists and how to alleviate it. But those aren’t the right questions. Poverty has been the norm for most people throughout history. The real question is: How do we create wealth?

That’s where businesspeople come in. Governments can help by providing clear private property rights, rule of law and justice. But they cannot create wealth. The Church is essential because it helps build a moral culture that supports strong families and vibrant communities. But the Church’s function is not to create wealth. Wealth is created through business and entrepreneurship.

The medieval Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides discussed eight different levels of charity. He argues that the highest level of charity is to give a loan or partner with someone so they can engage in productive enterprise and no longer be dependent upon others.

I met a young Kenyan businessman named Joshua living in one of the largest slums in Africa. He had searched unsuccessfully for work for two years. Finally he borrowed some money — about $8 — from a friend to start a small business, which I had the chance to visit. It’s small, and he works from 5 am to 10 pm almost every day. But he’s growing the business and saving money to pay for his child’s education. He hopes to move to a place where he can acquire private property and register his business. That’s just one small example of how a small loan or investment can change someone’s life.

It’s important to remember that it’s not just small loans that are needed. Also necessary is the growth of the small- and medium-sized business sector, which accounts for close to 75% of employment and GDP in the U.S. and Europe. In the developing world, however, there are very few mid-sized companies. There are many reasons for this, but one is lack of access to financing, training and partnerships. This is an area where Catholic business leaders could bring their skills and their desire to make a difference. As my friend Andreas Widmer, author of The Pope and the CEO, says, “We give aid to Africa, but we don’t do business with Africa.” What if Catholic business owners started doing business with the developing world?

Earlier this year, I met an entrepreneur in Haiti who makes solar panels. He worked with a solar-panel expert to develop appropriate technology. They received training from a Michigan-based company with expertise in construction. Some of their contacts came from a Protestant organization called Partners Worldwide, which connects business owners in the U.S. to entrepreneurs in the developing world. Can you imagine what would happen if Catholic business owners and entrepreneurs were involved? Think of how many parishes in the U.S. have twin parishes in the developing world.

As Legatus moves into its next 25 years, I encourage you to think about how to bring your faith and business skills to bear on questions of poverty, social justice and development. It’s not easy and there isn’t single or simple solution to poverty, but the role that faithful Catholic businesspeople can play has been overlooked. It’s time to change the paradigm.

Michael Matheson Miller is a research fellow and director of media at the Acton Institute. He is currently leading PovertyCure, an international network of organizations which promotes enterprise solutions to poverty rooted in a Christian understanding of the human person.