Life is an amazing thing. Human beings have an astonishing capacity for creativity, beauty, and self-sacrifice (and, yes, cruelty as well). Moreover, every single life is unique and unrepeatable, a work of art, a meteor that blazes through a moment of history.
The trial of Dylann Roof, the murderer of nine worshipers at a black church in Charleston in 2015, has now moved to the sentencing phase. The basic question is whether Roof will received life in prison or be executed for his crimes.
There is no doubt that Roof’s attack was heinous. In addition to the deaths themselves and the attendant suffering inflicted on the community and the families of the victims, Roof’s motive casts a further specter: he sought to ignite a race war in America.
In spite of all this, Roof’s life should be spared. His execution would potentially make him a martyr to those few people who share his twisted views of racial superiority and violence. In contrast, sparing his life demonstrates that American society retains the moral high ground and will not stoop to the kind of vindictive actions Dylann Roof has taken.
To my knowledge, no one is making the case that Roof poses a significant threat of escape. So long as he remains behind bars, he poses no threat to society. His blood need not be shed to protect the rest of us.
Human life has dignity – all human life. If we embark on the task of choosing which lives are and are not worthy of respect, as Dylann Roof did, we enter morally dubious territory. Human dignity is innate and inalienable; even acts as heinous as Roof’s cannot erase the sacred calling given to him and every man and woman on the planet: to love and to be loved.
Perhaps, as he lives out his days in prison, Dylann Roof might yet come to see that. I’m not optimistic, but I can hope.
For a further discussion of this topic, see the follow-on post.
From the State Committee:
January 22nd marks the 43rd anniversary of the tragic Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. In affirming the intrinsic dignity of all human life, the American Solidarity Party observes January as Right to Life Month.
We mourn for the children lost to abortion. We stand with the mothers harmed, physically and psychologically, by abortion.
If you join the ASP discussion group on Facebook, you’ll see in the group description something titled “Spirit of the Forum.” It is the code of conduct by which party members and those interested in ASP seek to conduct their discussions. In a sense, you could say it is the spirit of the party writ large. It is an approach to politics which is much needed in post-election America. We lament our deep divides and wonder where bipartisanship has gone, but too often fail to be the kind of people who engender cross-party cooperation and civil dialogue. Here are its four points:
1. GENEROSITY & HUMILITY. We approach others with generosity and ourselves with humility. Even when our opponents are wrong, they may be well-intentioned or see things that we do not. We recognize that we are not perfect and that our own perception is limited.
2. UNDERSTANDING. We seek to understand before we make decisions or criticize.
3. PERSUASION. We desire to persuade those who do not agree with us. We aim to use a welcoming tone and language they understand. We disavow insults, aggression, and arguments aimed only at scoring points.
4. COMPROMISE. Fundamental principles are not negotiable. But in all other matters, we seek common ground, so as to work together with those who are willing to help us advance toward common goals.
About the American Solidarity Party
Is ASP a Christian Party? ASP is part of the larger tradition of Christian Democracy, a movement that began in the 19th century and aims to embody the values of the Gospel, particularly by caring for the poor and promoting traditional morality. ASP supports the free exercise of religion for all people and welcomes people of all faiths or no faith at all.
When was ASP founded? In 2011, under the name Christian Democratic Party USA, which was changed to American Solidarity Party in 2012.
Where does the name come from? ASP takes its name from the Solidarity labor union in Poland, which played a pivotal role in the downfall of Communism and the restoration of democratic government in that country. The Solidarity union is but one example of the broader tradition of Christian Democracy in which ASP participates.
Is ASP socialist? Socialism generally refers to a system where the government owns the means of production (mines, factories, farms). We oppose such an arrangement. Rather, we favor – as did America’s Founders – a system of widespread ownership of private property, as befits a democratic society.
Is ASP a reformed Republican Party? Reformed Democrats? Neither. Our starting point is not a major party which we seek to tweak just a little. Rather, we seek to focus on America’s real values, real needs, and consensus-building around community-oriented solutions. If that ends up looking “conservative” or “liberal,” so be it. Our goal is simply to do what’s right.
What is ASP’s plan for the future? Why does ASP run candidates who can’t win? We are a political party, not simply a pressure group, and therefore our goal is to have members elected to public office where we can serve the public through legislation and policy. But we know we are a young and still relatively small party. Therefore, we pursue multiple approaches:
- Running symbolic candidates to attract public attention and new members.
- Running candidates with a realistic prospect at attracting a substantial portion of the vote.
- Endorsing candidates in other parties whose positions accord with those of ASP, when they can be found.
What is solidarity? Solidarity is more than warm fuzzy feelings about your neighbor (though that doesn’t hurt!). Solidarity is a real concern for others that is lived out in action. We believe that the dignity of all people and the material prosperity of the United States make it necessary and possible for us to care for the weakest and most vulnerable in our society.
What is subsidiarity? Subsidiarity is the idea that issues should be addressed at the lowest level possible: the family, the neighborhood, the city, the county, the state, the nation, the global community. Some issues – such as defense – are rightly national issues; a few – such as climate change – are necessarily global issues. But most issues are best handled at far lower levels, where people have a more intimate understanding of the problems and have a vested interest in seeing them addressed.
What is the ASP position on…. ASP’s official positions are spelled out in the party platform, which services as a guide to candidates. ASP believes the specific implementation of these positions, as well as topics not addressed in the platform, should be worked out by local communities to meet their particular needs. Thus, you won’t find every topic covered in the platform.
…abortion? ASP recognizes human dignity and is pro-life for the whole of life, meaning we oppose abortion as well as euthanasia, capital punishment, and torture. Moreover, we think it important to support children and their parents with adequate health care and education throughout their lives, as befits their dignity.
…drugs? ASP supports the decriminalization, not legalization, of recreational drugs. Decriminalization mean that drug use becomes something like speeding: you could be fined for it, but it’s not a criminal offense, so users wouldn’t be tried in court, sent to jail, or have a criminal record. Mass incarceration and the War on Drugs have failed; it’s time to try something different.
…health care? ASP calls for universal health care, as befits a nation that cares about all its citizens and has been blessed with tremendous material resources. We advocate a decentralized single-payer system. There are various ways that could be accomplished, but that probably means each state runs its own fund, which then pays various public or private medical institutions for the services provided to residents.
…immigration? ASP supports broad immigration reform. We need to reform the bureaucratic processes by which people can legally enter the US, but we also need to address the millions of people who are already here. ASP supports a pathway to citizenship, or at least permanent legal residency, for illegal immigrants who have no other criminal record.
…prostitution? ASP opposes the commercialization of sexuality, which violates the innate dignity of people. We recognize that difficult circumstances have driven many individuals into prostitution, and therefore we advocate alternative employment for prostitutes and strict penalties for those who purchase sex.
…war? ASP opposes war apart from the traditional criteria of just war. In other words, war must be a last resort, only used in grave circumstances, when there is a reasonable probability of resolving the conflict. In the conduct of such a just war, the use of force must be proportional to the threat and the rights of non-combatants must be respected.
Do you have additional questions? Please leave them in the comments!
America is in serious need of reconciliation and healing. That was bound to be the case whatever the results in Tuesday’s poll. So I asked some American Solidarity Party members for film recommendations to help foster such healing.
The suggestions were wide-ranging, including religious films (The Mission, The Island, There Be Dragons), films about wars (Joyeux Noel, The Railway Man, To End All Wars), films about America (Remember the Titans, Forrest Gump), films set in ancient Rome (Ben Hur, The Robe), and films set in foreign lands or the dystopian future (St. Petersburg, Les Miserables, The Diary of Immaculee, Hunger Games). Here are three I thought particularly notable:
Of Gods and Men (2010). A community of Trappist monks decided to stay in Algeria alongside their Muslim neighbors, even as the civil war turned decidedly ugly. This is their story.
The Tree of Life (2011). This film tells the story of one man’s life through his recollections of childhood and particularly his parents. (Side note: Robert Barron gave some commentary on this film as well.)
Pay It Forward (2000). A film about the power of kindness toward others.
Have you seen any of these films? What did you think? Are there others you would recommend?
You can’t talk about voting for a third party for very long before someone will say, “I don’t like either major candidate, but I’m not going to waste my vote on a third party.”
But is it a waste?
Those who make such comments would point out that, particularly in the presidential race, the odds of actually electing a third party candidate are quite small. In this sense, success is virtually impossible and so the vote is “wasted.” But voting Republican in California, or Democratic in Alabama, is also virtually guaranteed to “fail,” in the sense that these states’ electoral votes are foregone conclusions.
Voting third party, like voting Republican in California or Democratic in Alabama, can send a powerful message. It demonstrates that there are voters out there, voters willing to go to the polls, who have values that are not currently being reflected by the major parties. This is an invitation – to the major parties, to donors, to fellow voters – to rally to those values and the voters who stand by them.
Voting always involves a moral hazard. When you vote for someone you support them, their pros and their cons alike. We generally weigh these and find someone whose positive traits and policies we think are more significant than their shortcomings. Nevertheless, by casting a vote, we are, in some measure, supporting those shortcomings too. In settling for a major party candidate, you may be taking on a larger moral hazard than you’d like. Why not choose a third party candidate with whom your conscience can sleep well at night?
“But what about the Supreme Court?” some people ask. Are we not obligated to vote for a major party candidate, however bad, in the hope of saving the highest court from the justices that the other candidate would appoint? As writers all over the internet have been pointing out, that line of thinking is filled with holes. It rests on a long string of “maybes” and “what ifs,” ignores the role of the Senate in confirming justices, plays upon fear, and overlooks the poor quality of justices we’re likely to get from either candidate.
Next month you can send a clear message that you want something different. You can vote third party. You can vote for American Solidarity. Or you can add your vote to the sea of messages you did not craft and with which you do not agree.
The choice is yours.
This post first appeared on the American Solidarity blog.
Today is a triple holiday!
On this day in 1787 the delegates to the Constitutional convention signed the document that has provided the foundation to our political order. As much as we grumbled about contemporary politics, I think the US Constitution deserves recognition as one of the most stable systems of government the world has seen and the framework within which America has prospered in freedom and material plenty. (I would add, in passing, that Constitution Day is a sadly under-celebrated holiday in the US, though the University of Dallas always celebrates in style, with rousing singing of patriotic songs in all of their verses. Definitely worth attending.)
But a constitution, even a good one, is largely an empty vessel. It is the grammar, if you will, of politics, not the contents. Those contents are provided the people, parties, and policies that operate under that system of government. On 17 September 1980, the Solidarity labor union was established in Poland, under a constitutional arrangement far different than our own. But in spite of the Communist system within which it was forced to operate, Solidarity acted as a powerful force for good, reminding us to always pursue what is best, in spite of the odds or circumstances.
Finally, 17 September is also the birthday of Friedrich von Steuben, one of the foreign volunteers who aided the young republic. It is observed in a few localities as Von Steuben Day (complete with parades in New York, Chicago, and Philly). For all its exceptionalism – and America is indeed an exceptional place – our country owes a great debt to the hard work and diverse contributions of many waves of immigrants. Von Steuben Day is a reminder that our arms should continue to be open to those seeking to come to our country.
Today (Editor: July 20, 2016) we mark two anniversaries. Though divided by an ocean and more than a century, these two events remind us of the importance of religion in public life.
On 20 July 1775, the Continental Congress called upon our young nation to undertake a day of prayer and fasting, seeking the mercy and aid of the Almighty God. To further make the point, Congress attended Anglican services that morning and Presbyterian services in the afternoon. These men understood the danger of losing the rightful autonomy of religion and politics; they had studied history and knew of the horrors caused by the wars of religion in Europe. And thus they promoted religious pluralism, refusing to endorse one denomination or another. But they also knew that religion is not only permissible, but necessary in our public life. They understood that, most especially in moments of great need, mankind must submit itself to the wisdom and mercy of God.
On 20 July 1944, members of the German Army attempted to kill Adolf Hitler, evict the Nazis from power, and enter into a negotiated peace with the Western Allies. It was a close run thing, but the attempt failed and everyone connected with the plot was arrested. Among them was a Catholic priest, Alfred Delp (pictured left). He had not been involved with the plot itself, but had spoken with some members of the Kreisau Circle, a loose organization whose primary crime was to imagine what a post-Nazi Germany might look like. Delp had provided some perspectives based on the social teaching of the Catholic Church. Because some members of the Kreisau Circle were involved in the plot, virtually all were arrested and most executed. While in jail awaiting his fate, Delp wrote:
Spiritually we seem to be in an enormous vacuum. Humanly speaking there is the same burning question – what is the point of it all?… Scarcely anyone can see, or even guess at, the connection between the corpse-strewn battlefields, the heaps of rubble we live in and the collapse of the spiritual cosmos of our views and principles, the tattered residue of our moral and religious convictions as revealed by our behavior…. The social problem has been overlooked… and also the problem of youth and the problem… of spiritual questions which can all too easily masquerade as cultural or political questions.
Without the insight that religion brings, we lose sight of the deeper issues with which our nation struggles. Do we have a problem with violence? Yes. With racism? Yes. With poverty? Yes. But at the root of all of these is a problem with sin, with pride, with a rejection of God and the dignity He has given to all men.
At its recent national convention, the American Solidarity Party approved an amendment to the platform, stating, “We advocate for laws that allow people of all faiths to practice their religion without intimidation and deplore aggressive secularism that seeks to remove religion from the public sphere.” The platform goes on to state, “We deplore the reduction of the ‘free exercise of religion’ guaranteed by the First Amendment to ‘freedom of worship’ that merely exists in private and within a house of worship. The right to follow what the Declaration of Independence called ‘the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God’ must be respected.”
Religion is about far more than what you do at a mosque on Friday, in a synagogue on Saturday, or in a church on Sunday. Religion is a way of life, one that America has long valued, and one that we continue to need in our public discussions as much as we ever have.
Today’s image comes from the website of author Mary Frances Coady.
A friend recently expressed to me concern that the American Solidarity Party (ASP), a party in the tradition of Christian Democracy, might violate the separation of church and state. It would be easy to dismiss this question out of hand. After all, the Constitution does not contain the phrase “separation of church and state”. It simply requires that (a) Congress does not establish an official religion and (b) Congress does not interfere with the free exercise of religion.
One might point out that that ASP, as a tiny party, is far from the halls of power. Even if ASP took major offices, I am aware of no religious community represented by ASP members that would demand strict adherence to particular policies. Most churches articulate principles and leave their application to the judgement of individual members and office-holders. Even if the leaders of one church tried to exercise undue influence on the political process via ASP members, surely members of the party from other faiths would object.
ASP sometimes expresses its positions in Christian terms because many of its members are Christian. But this doesn’t mean that ASP does not welcome people of all faiths, or that its positions only make sense if you are a Christian. Indeed, people of many faiths, and even no faith at all, have articulated many of the same policy positions.
But at its heart, the question about church and state is about the role of religion in the public square. It is a topic of profound importance, one definitely worth addressing.
In Defense of Religious Pluralism
I am a Catholic and have attended worship in the Church’s various traditions: Roman, Greek, and Maronite. But I’ve also attended services in other churches: Episcopalian, Methodist, Evangelical, Mormon. Not so long ago I attended Friday prayers with a friend at her mosque.
Last year I had the chance to visit the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, popularly known as The Punchbowl, in Hawaii. It is home to thousands of war dead from World War II. Many of them are Japanese Americans from the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated unit in American military history. And as you walk along their tombstones, you notice something interesting: a great many, perhaps most, of them do not have a cross on top, but a Buddhist prayer wheel.
Our nation was founded by people of various faiths: Protestants from high church Anglicans to dissenting Quakers and everything in between. There were a few of Catholics and Jews and more than a few deists of various kinds. The Founders crafted a Constitution which neither enshrines a single faith as the official religion, nor bans religion from public view. They wanted a vigorous public discussion between many faiths.
I do not, as a matter of theology, believe that all religions are equal or correct. But I respect the dignity of all people, including their religious beliefs, and I recognize that, as a matter of public policy, our country is made stronger when people of faith share and act upon their values.
Some people fear an undue influence by Christianity or a particular Christian denomination over our national politics. There has indeed been a sad history of religious oppress oppression and violence across the centuries; I’ll not say such fears are unfounded. But the answer is not to banish religious voices. On the contrary, I welcome more of them. I would love to see a member of Congress introduce legislation by explaining that the policies it contains are supported by the principles found in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Quran. I would love to see an Indian American run for office and explain how his or her Hindu faith inspired public service. And I would love to see Christians campaign for the values of the Gospel.
America needs religion. But, to quote T. S. Elliot, “There is no competition— / There is only the fight to recover what has been lost / And found and lost again and again… / For us, there is only the trying.”