Progressive Revival

Pope Benedict XVI has been making the news lately. On theoccasion of Barack Obama’s election victory, he sent a personal congratulatorymessage and emphasized working with the new president on issues of “peace,solidarity and justice.”  When the Vatican spokesman was asked by a reporter for morespecifics discussed in the letter, the spokesperson reiterated, “peace,solidarity and justice.”

The Pope also reminded Catholics in a recent statement thatall human life, born and unborn, is sacred and mustbe protected. The Pope noted that every year about four million newbornchildren die around the world less than 26 days after birth because of poverty,lack of health care, and armed conflict. The Holy Father described this as amatter of “urgent” concern.

This consistent ethicof life principle has a long history in Catholic social thought, butit’s often eclipsed when it comes to contemporary debates over faith inpolitics.  Abortion, for example, is sometimesviewed in isolation from the social, cultural and economic context in whichwomen and families live.  As AuxiliaryBishop Gabino Zavala of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles told Washington Post writer E.J. Dionne, Jr. inthis column.”We are not a one-issue Church,” Zavala insisted.

Catholic voters agree. A new post-election pollconducted by Public Religion Research and sponsored by Faith in Public Life,Catholics in Alliancefor the Common Good and Sojourners found that 72 percent of Catholics saypeople of faith should “focus on all issues that are central to their faitheven if it makes them less effective in politics.”   Strongmajorities of Catholics (71%) and evangelicals (62%) also believe people offaith should advocate for policies that “protect the interests of all andpromote the common good.”

On the urgent moral issue of abortion, poll findings offerhope that we can move beyond culture-war divisions to support public policiesthat prevent abortions. Eighty-one percent of Catholics and 86 percent of whiteevangelicals, according to the survey, believe elected leaders should worktogether to find ways to reduce abortions by preventing unwanted pregnancies,expanding adoption opportunities, and increasing economic support for women whowant to carry their pregnancies to term.

The role of religion in public life today has dramatically changed. Justfour years ago, the far right had a monopoly on the faith and values’ debate. AChristian engagement with public life too often ignored the long tradition ofthe social gospel:  Jesus’ centralmessage of justice and liberation for the poor and oppressed, and theMagnificat’s reversal of worldly power.  War,health care and the economy were not widely viewed as moral issues that have aprofound impact on human dignity. Today,organizations like Catholics in Alliance,Pax Christi, NETWORK, Faith in Public Life and Sojourners have helped put thecommon good back at the center of political discourse.

This resurgent common-good faith movement has deepened themoral agenda by reclaiming a prophetic voice on issues such as poverty,  compassionate and root-cause solutions toabortion, genocide and climate change. The movement looks forward to realizingsolutions to these issues, and advocating for and holding the newAdministration and Congress accountable to these solutions and ideals, as aprophetic faith community must.

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