Archive for president obama

Lessons on Gun Control from ‘Down Under’

Posted in Social Justice, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on January 17, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

johnhowardIn these days following the initial presentation of President Obama’s encouraging agenda to help curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the form of firearms, there is a lot of talk about the pros and cons, the challenges and the need to make this sort of change happen. Today’s New York Times includes a guest op-ed piece by the former Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, who — in what I think is a humble and generous way — offers the United States a model to consider while moving forward in the discussion about the banning of assault weapons.

As a Christian, this is a “no-brainer.” Nobody has a right to an assault weapon. Period. Furthermore, as the Roman Catholic Church has continually expressed in recent decades (see, for example, my essay: “Catholic Church on Gun Control: No Firearms for Civilians!” in the book Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Selected Reflections from the Dating God Blog and Other Essays [2013]), individual citizens should not have access to instruments of murder. Yes, there are circumstances for which a hunter’s rifle, a far cry from assault weapons or handguns which are only used to kill other people, can be justified for the purposes of survival. However, other weapons have no such claim and secondary justifications, such as “for collecting purposes,” remain wholly specious.

Prime Minister Howard offers some interesting observations and commentary, noting along the way the unique hurdles that makes similar change in the US particularly challenging. Nevertheless, it is worth exploring this experience in Australia so that, eventually, we too might be able to say about our nation what the Australians say about their experience of banning assault weapons. Or, as Prime Minister Howard puts it: “Few Australians would deny that their country is safer today as a consequence of gun control.”

To read the op-ed piece, go to: “I Went After Guns. Obama Can, Too.”

Photo: Wire

A Nobel Peace Prize Won Last Term, A Hope That It Can Be Earned This Term

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 7, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

This morning I celebrated mass for the religious community in which I live. I am on the schedule as the presider every wednesday, but this particular wednesday brought me back to another early morning liturgy four years ago. While living in Washington, DC, during my Franciscan formation and theology and ministry studies, I happened — by chance — to be assigned to preach at the morning mass the morning after the last election. I remember the headlines of the newspapers, not just in the US, but internationally. Back in 2008 my German was a lot less rusty than it is today and I tried to keep up with at least one paper, in this case, Süddeutsche Zeitung. I recall the big, bold headline that morning after the election: “America — Rises from the Ashes.” The international community celebrated the hope and the promise that came with the election of Barack Obama in the United States. The world was worn and weary after eight years of the Bush administration’s policies, particularly abroad, and billions of the the world’s citizens looked to the US for what was to come.

The fervor and international enthusiasm led to President Obama’s receiving the Nobel Peace Prize the following year. People were shocked, myself included. While I will readily admit that I too was enthusiastic about the possibilities that laid ahead, while realistic about the likely political battles that ensued (I did live in DC after all), I couldn’t believe that such a significant sign of typically lifelong achievement had been awarded so quickly. I was proud of our president, but more heartened by what I took this symbolic move to mean for the rest of the world.

And then reality set in. Two very painful, violent, and — at least in one case, if not in two — frivolous wars carried on. Mechanisms for injustice — Guantanamo Bay, international detention centers, etc. — remained in status quo; environmental concerns were left unaddressed in any significant way; and drone attacks broadened our violent imperialism internationally.

What had been the international signal of hope and peace, epitomized by the Nobel Prize, became something of an embarrassment, something that could not really be explained or justified.

Granted, the stakes were high and the absolute disregard for dialogue, progress, collaboration, and bipartisanship on the part of the Republicans in Congress, symbolized by Mitch McConnell’s now famous declaration that the GOP’s primary goal would be to make sure President Obama wasn’t reelected (its goal was not the American people by his own omission), certainly explains some of the roadblocks to achieving even more than the very important and valuable health-care reform, repealing of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and the financial actions that prevented a reliving of the early 1930s. Nevertheless, President Obama and his administration need to take their share of responsibility for inaction, lack of serious engagement domestically and internationally in peacemaking and climate change, and the implementation of more domestic policies that would guarantee the rights of all people.

As a Franciscan friar, I am particularly haunted by the specter of the Nobel. Violence may be our biggest concern right now. Some will cry “abortion, abortion,” but as legal scholars and moral theologians have replied until they are hoarse and frustrated, the President of the United States has almost no ability to directly or, perhaps with a few very removed exceptions such as court appointments, event indirectly affect that law and effect the change for which anti-abortion protestors clamor. What the President does have absolute control over are executive orders that authorize drone attacks over seas, the covert engagement of elite military attacks that proceed with impunity, and other policies that directly affect domestic concerns of justice and civil rights.

At the beginning of this next term, the admitted last political office the President will pursue, I have some recommendations, perhaps more appropriately admonitions, to offer. These have everything to do with the Nobel Prize won in the last term, it is my hope that in the following four years it might be genuinely earned.

  • End the Drone Strikes — This is one of the worst scars that mar the international and moral face of the United States today. The ethical complexity of these attacks goes without enough consideration and we should end this sort of violent imperialism.
  • Seriously Address Climate Change — In the wake of Hurricane (“superstorm”) Sandy, there is no better time than the present to use the position of the President of the United States to take the lead at home and abroad in addressing the way in which our Sister Mother Earth (as St. Francis would say) is being destroyed and, in turn, is becoming increasingly in habitable for humanity and the rest of creation.
  • Move Beyond Tax-Code Solutions — Yes, the wealthy must pay their fair share, which includes changing the policies that allow the sinful loopholes that allow people who make money simply by having a lot of money to pay unjustly low rates. However, there are other ways this country needs to get its act together in terms of establishing a more equitable and egalitarian society. Can we have a new FDR-like movement? Can we shift the “anti-government at all costs” rhetoric so popular today to remember what it means to be part of a society that is not filled with individuals, but celebrates our interdependence?
  • Put the Poor First — This really follows the previous point and is as self-explanatory as possible. When you have to make a decision, don’t be concerned with what the wealthy, the corporations (which are not people, but juridic fictions), the other politicians, and the plutocrats will think or react — look at your office through the lens of the most disenfranchised, poor, and marginalized. Use your power for good and not the evil that comes with supporting those who benefit from the demise of the populous, which, by the way, is how most politicians in recent history act. Be the change that you encouraged us to believe in!
  • Education, Education, Education — By which I do not mean more standardized tests nor hedgehog policies for science and math alone. We need a citizenry that can think and, as an educator and one who moves in such circles, I can assure you that we are not, as a nation, training our young people to think today. We are training them to be mechanical reproducers of a limited pool of information. Education is both an ethical issue and a concern for national security; let’s treat it appropriately!
  • Don’t Be Afraid, You Have Nothing To Lose Now — Take strength in accomplishing and inaugurating what requires courage and conviction. You have four more years to do what you intimated that you could: so do it! Don’t let this term turn into the worthless second term of President Bush or the fiasco of sideshow politics in the second term of President Clinton. You are in a unique place, at a unique time, in a dire circumstance to make things happen — if only through authentic and inspiring encouragement and empowering of the people.

These are simply a few of the many things I would tell President Obama if, in some alternative universe, he would seek out my opinion. I am hopeful still, but then again I am a Christian and, as such, I live in Easter Hope. I believe President Obama was the right person for this office in this election, but only insofar as he is able to use these four years in ways resembling what I name here. My thoughts and prayers are with you!

Photo: Pool

Cardinal Dolan’s Response to the ‘Al Smith Dinner’ Critiques

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on August 15, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Over on his blog, The Gospel in the Digital Age, the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, offers a very well-reasoned reflection on why inviting politicians with whom one does not agree on every issue to the table (literally the dinner table in this case) is an important, necessary, and noble move. He has received an intense amount of criticism from some groups of people for his invitation to President Obama in the wake of the recent scuffle between some bishops (including Cardinal Dolan) and some other Catholic organizations and the US Department of Health and Human Services over implementation of certain laws.

Cardinal Dolan writes:

The Al Smith Dinner has never been without controversy, since, as Carl Anderson reminded us, politics can inspire disdain and negativity as well as patriotism and civility.

This year is surely no exception: I am receiving stacks of mail protesting the invitation to President Obama (and by the way, even some objecting to the invitation to Governor Romney).

Of course, as the Cardinal rightly notes in his important parenthetical reference to simultaneous protests about Governor Romney’s invite, the GOP candidate is equally guilty of failing the “Catholic moral test” that some wish to levy each election cycle.

It is true: there are many things about President Obama, his executive administration, and the Democratic Party more broadly that Catholics in good conscience must challenge and reject. Among these things are issues of war, especially the proliferation of drone strikes around the world, and attitudes toward abortion, to name two.

Nevertheless, there are many things about Governor Romney, his running mate, and the Republican Party more broadly that Catholics in good conscience must challenge and reject. Among these things are issues of war, torture and capital punishment; attitudes toward gun control; and economic policy and the general preferences for the wealthy over the poor, the working-class, and the middle-class populations.

Cardinal Dolan does an excellent job highlighting four keen reasons for why an event like the Al Smith dinner should include politicians like President Obama and Governor Romney, neither of whom would otherwise rate “endorsement” (something the Cardinal goes to great measures to explain the Church does not do).

So, my correspondents ask, how can you justify inviting the President? Let me try to explain.

For one, an invitation to the Al Smith Dinner is not an award, or the provision of a platform to expound views at odds with the Church. It is an occasion of conversation; it is personal, not partisan.

Two, the purpose of the Al Smith Dinner is to show both our country and our Church at their best: people of faith gathered in an evening of friendship, civility, and patriotism, to help those in need, not to endorse either candidate. Those who started the dinner sixty-seven years ago believed that you can accomplish a lot more by inviting folks of different political loyalties to an uplifting evening, rather than in closing the door to them.

Three, the teaching of the Church, so radiant in the Second Vatican Council, is that the posture of the Church towards culture, society, and government is that of engagementand dialogue. In other words, it’s better to invite than to ignore, more effective to talk together than to yell from a distance, more productive to open a door than to shut one. Our recent popes have been examples of this principle, receiving dozens of leaders with whom on some points they have serious disagreements. Thus did our present Holy Father graciously receive our current President of the United States.  And, in the current climate, we bishops have maintained that we are open to dialogue with the administration to try and resolve our differences.  What message would I send if I refused to meet with the President?

Finally, an invitation to the Al Smith Dinner in no way indicates a slackening in our vigorous promotion of values we Catholic bishops believe to be at the heart of both gospel and American values, particularly the defense of human dignity, fragile life, and religious freedom. In fact, one could make the case that anyone attending the dinner, even the two candidates, would, by the vibrant solidarity of the evening, be reminded that America is at her finest when people, free to exercise their religion, assemble on behalf of poor women and their babies, born and unborn, in a spirit of civility and respect.

In conclusion, Cardinal Dolan makes the honest point that Jesus too was the cause of scandal for those he repeatedly welcomed at table.

In the end, I’m encouraged by the example of Jesus, who was blistered by his critics for dining with those some considered sinners; and by the recognition that, if I only sat down with people who agreed with me, and I with them, or with those who were saints, I’d be taking all my meals alone.

But isn’t that what so many people want? To simply eat alone? To insist that their individual perspectives, their agendas, their interests, their worldviews are really Catholic, correct, patriotic, or whatever?

Our culture has become so polarized that, in effect, most people end up “eating alone” because they can’t stand to listen to those whose views differ from their own. Perhaps we all need to be a little more like Cardinal Dolan, who, as he tries to express in his post, is simply trying to eat the way Jesus did — with everyone. 

Let’s not demonize others: we’re no saints either!

Photo: NYT

Good News for Earth: Keystone XL Proposal Rejected

Posted in Social Justice, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on January 19, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

In what amounts to good news for social-justice advocates and for all those concerned about protecting the environment and the health and safety of many people, the Obama Administration has announced that it will reject the Keystone XL pipeline proposal that would extend an oil pipeline from Canada through the continental United States to refineries in Texas. Although his justification is allegedly the “rushed and arbitrary deadline” of the proposed project, President Obama’s actions are to be lauded by Christians, especially the many who have worked very hard to protest and prevent this dangerous project, including several of my brother Franciscan friars and students at Franciscan Catholic colleges and universities. The Washington Post reports:

President Obama, denouncing a “rushed and arbitrary deadline” set by congressional Republicans, announced Wednesday that he was rejecting a Canadian firm’s application for a permit to build and operate the Keystone XL pipeline, a massive project that would have stretched from Canada’s oil sands to refineries in Texas.

Read more…

Photo: Pool

The Osama bin Laden Assassination Revisited

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on August 5, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

This reflection is now available in Daniel P. Horan, OFM’s book Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Selected Reflections from the Dating God Blog and Other Essays, Volume One (Koinonia Press, 2013).

Another Franciscan’s Take on The President’s Speech

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 30, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

I have received several email messages in recent days asking about what I thought of the President’s address to the nation about the military action in Libya. One reader of Dating God asked about my position of Christian nonviolence and how, in light of that view of Gospel living, I might respond to the President’s comments. In brief, I am still against any form of military violence. This, I believe as a Christian and a Franciscan friar at that, is central to the message of the Kingdom of God. Illogical though it may seem in political and global terms, it makes perfect sense according to the poetic vision Christ offers us of God’s in-breaking in the world.

Yet, I realize that not all people hold this view and the way in which political decisions are made in this country cannot reflect a position such as mine, which (unfortunately) remains a minority view. The structure of a liberal republic such as the United States — and this, I believe is an asset — creates the conditions for the possibility of military action such as we are currently witnessing in several arenas around the world.

Instead of offering my own analysis of the situation, I direct you instead to my friend, classmate and brother friar, Br. Steve DeWitt, OFM, who has written a good assessment of the President’s address. Steve is a passionate and knowledgable social-justice advocate who has worked for the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns in Washington, DC, and is currently spending the year working in the missions of Boliva and Peru. You can read his take on the President’s speech here: “Thoughts on Obama’s Libya Speech.

To give you a foretaste, here is Steve’s concluding paragraph:

Overall the President’s speech was full of inspiring rhetoric that addressed some of the concerns over U.S. actions in Libya. His failure to answer key questions concerning end-goals and broader U.S. policy in the Middle East, however, leave plenty of room for doubt about the ultimate wisdom of current U.S. actions. One hopes, probably in vain, that greater clarity and a more fully formulated policy concerning current events in the Middle East will be forthcoming.

Again, you can read the full text of Steve’s thoughts here: “Thoughts on Obama’s Libya Speech.

Photo: by Steve DeWitt, OFM

Obama and Romero: Planting Seeds of Hope or Raising the Veil of Injustice?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on March 23, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

I seriously doubt that Archbishop Oscar Romero could have imagined that a sitting President of the United States of America would have ever visited his tomb when, shortly before he was assasinated, he declared in perhaps his most famous homily: “If they kill me, I will rise up in the Salvadoran People.” That his legacy, the prophetic cry of justice that has become identified with the name Romero, would draw the attention of the most powerful political leader in the world is a striking event to behold.

Nevertheless, the irony of the visit of President Barack Obama to the tomb of the slain Archbishop Oscar Romero was not lost on all. First among the critics of the President’s visit and subsequent silence on the United States’ involvement in support of the Guerílla leaders who were responsible for Romero’s assassination is Maryknoll Missionary Fr. Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch.

A National Catholic Reporter article cites Fr. Bourgeois’s position that the President’s visit was a “missed opportunity.”

for Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois, the visit was at best a missed opportunity. His organization, SOA Watch, revealed that Romero’s killers were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas, now named the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).

“I and many other human rights activists were hopeful,” he said, that Obama would acknowledge “that Romero and thousands of others were killed, tortured and disappeared by graduates of this school.”

The 1993 U.N. Truth Commission Report on El Salvador found that the U.S.-armed and trained Salvadoran military had killed tens of thousands of civilians in a systematic attempt to eliminate its political opponents. Forty-seven of the sixty-six officers cited for major atrocities were SOA graduates, including the killers of four U.S. churchwomen, six Jesuit priests and hundreds of civilians, mostly women and children, at the village of El Mozote.

Obama’s visit “could have been a historic moment,” Bourgeois said, one similar to former President Clinton’s rare apology for the US role in the training and arming of Guatemalan security forces that slaughtered more than 200,000 civilians.

“Obama didn’t even acknowledge, let alone apologize for, the U.S. role in El Salvador,” Bourgeois said.

Fr. Bourgeois has a good point. Indeed, if there was ever a good time to acknowledge the responsibility that the United States shares for its involvement in some of the worst crimes against humanity in Central America during the 1970s and 1980s — all under the guise of ‘spreading democracy’ — through covert support of dictators and military governments, it would have been at the foot of the burial site of one of the best known victims of the violent terror enables by the U.S. Government. But there was silence.

One way to look at the silence is to take Fr. Bourgeois’s position, emphasizing the inaction of the President and the absence of a public admittance of wrongdoing — perhaps even followed up by an action such as closing what was then known as the School of the Americas. Another way to look at the silence is to see in the moment an invitation for transformation in the heart of a sitting U.S. President.

I don’t know about you, but looking at those photos of Barack Obama beside the tomb of Oscar Romero, lighting candles in prayer and passing by the portrait of the Salvadorian ‘Bishop and Martyr’ gives me goosebumps — the good kind. It is very powerful and overwhelming to think that the President, regardless of the continued sin of omission cried out against by Fr. Bourgeois and others, spent time there when he could have done anything else.

Conversion, metanoia — the turning around — takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight and substantial changes don’t happen quickly. But isn’t it possible that this experience of visiting Romero’s tomb, hearing the story of the Archbishop’s life and death, and recalling the tumult of the people of Central America might actually be the planting of seeds of hope.

Sure, it’s easy to look at the situation in the short-term and decry inaction and silence, but when I look at my friends’ garden at the beginning of each summer I also only see dusty dirt. Come back in a few months and one sees plants growing and fruit forming on the plants. I’m not willing to give up hope that this experience might not affect President Obama in the long run.  Then again, I believe in both the Holy Spirit and the power of Oscar Romero’s intercessory prayer.

Romero continues to rise up, not just in the people of Salvador, but in all people who seek justice and peace in the world and respond to the cry of the poor and marginalized. My hope is that the seeds planted, perhaps even those unexpectedly sowed in Obama’s heart yet to be seen, may germinate into the fruit of justice when Romero will in fact rise up in the President of the United States.

Photos: Getty Images
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