A Seamless Garment

I linked to this previous post, but it's worth another mention--the latest US Catholic has a great interview with Mark Shields on politics and faith.

Here's the section that Evangelicals would do well to pay attention to:

I think the church diminishes its overall message if it does not address the larger social picture. I always thought that on this issue the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago made the most sense with his idea of the seamless garment: that we have a comprehensive responsibility to be totally prolife.

I don’t mean to be a wise guy, but it seems to me some people think life begins at conception and ends at birth. We’ve got people who are against abortions, but, given a choice between funding Women and Infant Care (WIC) and cutting taxes, would choose to cut taxes.

A few other highlights:

  • I think it’s awful tough for a Christian not to be an optimist.
  • Part of Kerry’s problem is stylistically he’s not a good fit with many Catholics. He doesn’t suggest a Catholic ethnicity most of us can identify with.
    He once told a reporter he greatly admired “Pope Pius XXIII,” who never existed. He meant John XXIII. The last Pius was No. 12—but I don’t know, maybe Kerry’s a visionary.
  • The inscription on FDR’s memorial reads, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” Can you imagine someone standing up in Washington today and saying that—Republican or Democrat? “What are you, a socialist?” they’d be asked. How narrow our perspective has become of what our mission as a nation is and what we have to do for each other.


Why Reporting on Stem Cells Matters

Here's why getting accurate reporting on cells, not just a matters. Gareth Cook of the Boston Globe reports on international clinics offering "stem cell treatment"--treatments that in reality do not exist.

The people using these clinics are mostly parents of children with terminal diseases, parents who are so desperate that they'd "sell their souls" in exchange for a cure.

Here's some of the clearest reporting out there on the gap between stem cell potential and medical reality:

For anyone listening to the escalating fight over embryonic stem-cell policy, which has become an issue in the presidential campaign as well as the national divide over abortion, it is easy to conclude that the research is on the verge of delivering cures. Opponents of the Bush restriction -- including former first lady Nancy Reagan -- have pleaded for a change on behalf of loved ones. Even the president, in announcing the restrictions, spoke of the cells' power to help with Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, juvenile diabetes, and spinal cord injuries.

Yet the gap between the potential -- the young field could revolutionize medicine -- and the reality for patients is vast. Researchers can isolate the cells, but they do not know how to coax them to become many of the cells in the body. It is possible that the study of embryonic stem cells will yield knowledge that will lead to new drugs, but that is a long road, too. Today there is simply no embryonic stem-cell medicine.

But for patients and their families, these caveats can sound like an excess of caution.

"Because of all the hype, it makes stem cells seem like a secret that is not available to you," said Pat Furlong, executive director of Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, an advocacy group.

Cook reports on the heartwrenching story of James Rosetti, a 15 year old with Muscular Dystrophy, whose parents paid more than $30,000 to a clinic in Kiev that offered "embryonic stem cell treatment" which turned out to be of a dubious nature. He captures the Rosetti's heartache and their determination to find a cure for their son in a respectful and humane way.

Here's the lead:

Many children have dreams about flying -- soaring on wings, maybe, or zooming around like Superman. James Rossetti, a blue-eyed 15-year-old, says he doesn't have any of those. He dreams about walking.

James, who has his father Ray's dark hair, was a bustling toddler. He kicked around, Flintstones-style, in a bright yellow-and-red Little Tikes car. He loved baseball, just like his dad, and even with a fat Wiffle ball bat, Ray said, the kid had a beautiful swing.

But when James was 5, Ray and his wife, Karen, began to notice problems: an awkwardness to his gait, trouble walking on the stairs, occasional complaints of "sore legs." They took James to the doctor for tests. The next day, Karen called Ray at work. She was sobbing so hard she could barely speak.

Cook has captured the emotion that drives stem cell proponents--the desire to find a cure for people, like James, who suffered from debilitating and cruel diseases. He did the same in this earlier piece about a couple who donated their spare embryos to science.

He also points the enourmous gap between the potential of embryonic stem cell treaments and harsh medical reality. There are no miracle cures, and aren't likely to be for some time.

What we need is more reporting like this--honest about difficulties involved, and hardnosed about the scientific evidence.

If you listen to the rhetoric of embryonic stem cell proponents, you get the impression that the only thing standings in the way of these miracles cures are the medieval principles of a few religious fanatics. Too many doctors and researchers have been willing to exaggerate and make false claims about stem cells in order to get government funding for their projects. Too many reporters have been caught up in the ideological battles about stem cells to report on reality.

This can't be allowed to go on. As Cook points out, the stakes are just too high.


What Would Jesus Tax

"...if a community is run by the market, then Mammon has triumphed over God. In other words, if the least among us have no minimum chance to succeed, the community is not reflecting godly values.

I’m so tired of hearing folks claim that somehow charity will make up for inequity in taxation. It won’t. Evangelicals should go back and read about the Fall. They are pretending that somehow people are not tempted by the sin of greed. That is inconsistent with the way any Bible-believing person believes."
Susan Pace Hamill, University of Alabama Law Professor in the latest Christian Century

For the past year, Susan Pace Hamill has been on a crusade to change Alabama's tax code. Why? Because the Bible tells her so

Most tax systems are progressive--that it, the more you earn, the more you pay. That's flip-flopped in Alabama, where a combination of low property taxes and high sales tax means that "Alabama's poorest residents pay almost 11 percent of their income in state taxes while the richest pay less than 4 percent," Hamill told me when I interviewed here for an RNS story last year.

Hamill didn't pay much attention to Alabama's tax code until she spent a sabbatical at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, a conservative Baptist School.
Her study of Old Testament demands for justice and an indepth analysis of Alambama tax code made her into an activist. (You can read her master's thesis, which quotes more than 100 conservative Biblical commentaries, here)

While Hamill convinced Alabama's governor and most of the state's church leaders, a bill to change the tax code was soundly defeated last fall. The main opponent of the bill was the state's Christian Coalition.

If you want to get a indepth look of the greatest failing of Evangelical Christianity--which is that many of us thing that life begins at conception and ends at birth (as Mark Shields put in the most recent US Catholic magazine, then take a look at Hamill's recent interview in the Christian Century is worth

Here a snippet, on Christian-led opposition to tax reform:

They said that it’s up to the church to take care of the poor and that low taxes help people do that. They said I obviously wanted to increase taxes and hurt families.

Let’s consider that argument. First, does charity replace justice? The answer is clearly no. You can have a decent amount of charity going on in the midst of unjust laws. An A+ record in charity can’t turn an F in injustice into a C average. Things don’t work that way. And all the charity in the world is not going to produce the fairness in taxation we need. People are just too greedy to give things up voluntarily.

Any reasonable reading of the biblical account of the Fall teaches us that on our own we’re not going to do the right thing, and we’re certainly not going to voluntarily give up what we should. That’s why tax laws exist.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, a conservative Republican and Southern Baptist, has proposed a $1.2 billion tax package that raises taxes on the wealthiest residents and businesses and cuts taxes on poor families. Riley argues that he has a moral obligation to do so, said David Azbell, the governor's press secretary.

"Gov. Riley has said many times that there are three things he has found in reading the New Testament," Azbell said. "We are to love God, love our neighbor and take care of the poorest of the poor."

Azbell said the tax plan helps make "an immoral tax system moral." He notes that in Alabama, a family of four that makes as little as $4,600 a year still has to pay income taxes. In neighboring Mississippi, that figure is $19,000. "I just don't think you can find a justification in the New Testament for taxing a family that makes $4,600 a year," he said.


One of a Kind

Tom Sine says he's traveled the world over and never found anything quite like the American Religious Right.

Sine's piece, Divided by a Common Faith appear in the latest issue of Sojourners:

Here's the problem, says Sine:

American evangelicals tend to subscribe to a revisionist understanding of
the U.S. founding story that encourages them to view the United States as
God’s unique redemptive agent in the world. Not surprisingly, this view of
messianic nationalism makes it very easy for many American evangelicals to
support the neoconservative doctrine endorsing the pre-emptive and
redemptive use of violence to make the world a better place. Very few
evangelicals around the world support either this view of American
exceptionalism or this imperial use of pre-emptive violence to "improve"
life on this planet.

The only problem with this view, says Sine, is that it's not biblical. American Evangelicals, he says, "have allowed right-wing fears and nationalistic
dreams—rather than teachings of a biblical faith—to shape their Christian

To make this point, Sine quotes from sociologist Donald Kraybill of Messiah College:
"When public piety is surging, Christians must be
careful to distinguish between the god of American civil religion and the
God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. The God of...Jesus sends the rain on the
just and the unjust. This God urges us to love our enemies, to bless those
who curse us.... For this God there is no east or west, no political
borders, no pet nations."


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