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Editorial: New President, New Moment, New Wineskin
Deacon Keith Fournier
CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) - “No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old and the tear gets worse. Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2)
On the Commemoration of the birth of a great American and a great Christian, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Gospel passage for the Catholic Liturgy was taken from St. Mark. I took my old, worn copy of Dr. King’s “Strength to Love”, a marvelous compilation of some of his finest sermons, into my morning prayer. Among the many things which I thanked the Lord for was the milestone represented by the election of our first African American President Barack Obama. Dr. King’s full dream is still in process of coming to fruition but this turn of events is certainly a leap forward, on many fronts.
As I read his sermons again I was reminded of the Christian faith which infused his message and inspired his willingness to pour himself out for the mission entrusted to him. His was a distinctively Christian vision of the human person, freedom and a truly just society. There is no doubt that his faith inspired his call for an end to the intrinsic evil of racism. His faith grounded him in his prophetic insistence upon doing all he could to advance the promises yet unfulfilled in the United States Declaration of Independence. Dr. King was a classical Christian thinker. He appealed to the Natural Law in his insistence upon the universality of fundamental human rights which are endowed on all men and women by a Creator. He knew that civil government does not confer those rights but exists to respect, promote and protect them.
Along with millions, I watched the “Obama Express” this past weekend. It was ripe with symbolism and laced with a message of hope and new possibilities for our Nation. I listened to the short addresses of our new President throughout the rail tour. I heard inspiring references to our common values. I even heard the phrase the “primacy of family” used for the first time I remember in his campaign. I was inspired by the real life stories of people cited by the President Elect and his pledge to carry them with him to Washington, D.C. I share his assessment of the goodness and decency of the American people. I also hold the hope that we can recover the deeper meaning of the Declaration which helped to birth our Nation’s experiment in ordered liberty. I was encouraged by his insight that Americans always “get back up” and marveled once again at his rhetorical skills. I had a unique vantage point, I watched from Vancouver, Canada, where I was speaking at Redeemer Pacific College. The excitement among the good people of Canada reflected the excitement in much of the world. It seems that all eyes are looking to Washington D.C. and hoping that this new, young American President can set things aright. After all, we all know that we live in a difficult moment.
We now have a New President. We who are Christians should pray for him daily. The Apostle Paul charged his young disciple Timothy to pray for those in authority. (1 Tim. 2: 4). The Church has always done so, even in the midst of persecution. President Obama needs our prayer. We should work with his administration in any efforts which truly further the recognition of the dignity of every human life, promote the primacy of true marriage and the family founded upon it, expand authentic human freedom and advance solidarity and the real common good. After all, these ends lie at the heart of a Christian vision of our call to faithful citizenship and together help to form a truly just society. However, we must never, ever, ever stop insisting that every single human life from conception to natural death has an inherent human dignity and that because of that fact there is a fundamental right to life from conception to natural death which must be recognized in the positive law, period. Such an insistence is not about a “single issue”, it is the very source of what this new President addressed at every one of his short speeches leading up to the Inauguration. Without the right to life there are no other rights. It is no mistake that the American founders placed it first.
We have a new moment. Soaring rhetoric of a new birth of freedom will not be enough to move us forward, toward a "more perfect union". All Americans who understand the truth revealed in the Natural law concerning the dignity of every human life from conception to natural death know that legal recognition of this right to life is the prerequisite for any real “New Birth of Freedom”. Freedom is a good of the person. Taking the lives of our youngest neighbors through procured abortion is a heinous crime against them. It absolutely impedes the progress of true freedom. We cannot stop speaking out for the right to life of our first neighbors, the poorest of the poor, children in the first home of the whole human race, their mother’s womb. We must also give our voice to the elderly who are increasingly being seen as a burden to be disposed of rather than a treasure to be esteemed. We must insist upon the dignity of the sick and the disabled who cry out for the love of preference which is due to all the poor. This new President speaks the language of solidarity when he calls us all to recognize that we are our brothers (and sisters) keepers. He regularly reminds us that we are neighbors with one another - and with the rest of the world. We must now raise the question which has to be answered in every generation, from the Parable of the Good Samaritan in the Gospel, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10)Is the child in the womb our neighbor?
The Pro-Life position is the deepest expression of solidarity. We must develop this language of pro-life solidarity if we hope to fruitfully present its importance in the coming “Obama years”. Medical Science has confirmed what our conscience has told us all along, these children in their mother’s womb are our first neighbors. It is simply always wrong to kill our neighbors. Yes, we should do all that we can to help mothers (and fathers) in crisis situations and build a family and child friendly public policy. However, none of that is a substitute for stopping the killing of the new holy innocents. In addition to learning how to talk in this moment we also need to learn to walk and work in the America we now live in. It is time to stop looking back lest we meet the fate of Lot’s wife and turn into useless salt.(Gen. 19:26) The Lord has called us to be the kind of salt which preserves what is true and gives the flavor of authentic freedom to every age. (Matt. 5:13) Prophetically, sacrificially and without compromise we must insist that the promise of a new birth of freedom which this new President offers can never be fulfilled until our first principles are properly understood, thoroughly embraced and legally secured. Without the right to life there are no other rights and without the freedom to be born there are no other freedoms. The America led by a President Obama presents us with an opportunity, if we approach it in faith and are willing to do the hard work of activism. In the midst of the growing use of the language of freedom, solidarity, empathy, participation and the common good in our political landscape we who bear the name Christian should be very comfortable. After all, as is evident in the sermons of Dr. King which I read Monday morning, this is our turf.
Our identity as Christians grounds us in a vision of the human person, marriage and family, the Natural Law, authentic human freedom, morality and a social justice tradition which recognizes our obligation to the “least of our brethren”. (Matt. 25) It is precisely the kind of vision which is reflected in much of the rhetoric we are hearing throughout this historic Inauguration. We need to insist on it becoming more than rhetoric. The dignity of every human person from conception, throughout the entirety of our temporal life and until our natural death, must again become the polestar of all of our public policy activism. We need a new movement which insists upon a hierarchy of values and does not make the mistakes of the so called “religious right” by losing the first principles in a sea of other political issues. This new movement must be unaligned with any specific political party so that it can speak prophetically to all of them. It should reject the labels of “left”, “right” and speak instead the language of life, marriage, family, authentic human freedom and solidarity.
When President Elect Obama won this hotly contested U.S. Presidential race, too many Pro-life Christians followed the siren song of those on the right who called for some sort of new “conservative resistance” to his administration. They had apparently come to believe that by restoring “conservatism” (whatever the word has come to mean) we would actually be able to solve what ails us as a Nation. It is not now, nor was it ever, about “conservatism” or “liberalism” or “neo-conservatism”. It is about life, family, true freedom, solidarity, the common good rightly understood, and the Christian call to authentic social concern. This is a moment for all who bear the name Christian - and truly understand the implications of it - to reject the failed movements of the past with their mixed record at best. Let’s be honest, we are no closer to achieving the first goal, the recognition of the fundamental right to life of every human person from conception to natural death, as a result of them. Let us choose to remember that it was that struggle for the first right, the right to life, which brought many of us into political and social activism. We cannot give up; we cannot retreat, we must learn from our mistakes, get back up and begin again.
We have a new President. This is a new moment. We need a new wineskin which can hold the new wine of a new alliance for life, marriage and solidarity. Let us begin the work together.
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