...are the ones that make the biggest difference


Unity08 - Can't we all just get along?

I received the January/February edition of the Atlantic last week - probably a little late due to it being a Christmas gift-subscription. This issue has a special focus on the state of the union, highlighting 4 critical areas: post-Katrina education reform in New Orleans serving as an experiment for the rest of the nation, Chief Justice Roberts' views on judicial temperament and his goals for leading the Court, a profile of a gene-mapper and his efforts to use this technology to help find new energy sources, and a brief exploration of Unity08. All of these articles are interesting, especially the education & court readings, but Surprise Party was probably the most intriguing, at least at first. Apparently a group of old-time political operatives and campaign managers got together for dinner just before the mid-term elections, voiced their concerns and frustrations with the way campaigns (and politics) are being run at present and decided to do something about it. The players are Doug Bailey, who worked for President Ford, and Jerry Rafshoon and Hamilton Jordan. The latter two worked for President Carter's campaign.

What they want to do is field a bi-partisan ticket, chosen by the first online political convention made up of anybody who gets on the website and signs up. Their goal is to retake the center of American politics by putting up centrist candidates who, due to the bipartisan nature of the ticket, will appeal to voters firmly in the middle. Not too hot, not too cold, but just right. Its a Goldilocks kind of political endeavor. They're hoping that America will be largely dissatisfied with the candidates the main parties pick, thus building momentum for their ticket and giving the middle a voice. They're also avoiding money from PAC's and businesses, and are instead relying solely on personal donations to fund the campaign. Due to the novel nature of their endeavor and their reliance on the internet, they think they should be able to do this on the cheap, which sounds reasonable for the initial stages.

The article is rather upbeat, painting a rather rosy picture with poll numbers, innovators that have gotten onboard with the group and even making comparisons with the feel-good Clint Eastwood movie "Space Cowboys." For anyone dissatisfied with the current political climate and the way money & special interests seem to trump common sense and whats-best-for-the-nation, Unity08 sounds like a winner.

At least until you visit the website.

A brief survey of the online forums reveals that all this come-togethery-feel-good-ness isn't quite working out as planned. The old, contentious and deep running issues still come to the fore. Will Unity08 be pro-choice or pro-life? Its looking to be pro-choice, with most pro-life members getting flamed or accused of religious bigotry (perhaps not too surprising given one of the major fundraisers is Roger Craver, a man who helped create and fund NARAL and NOW). The same is true of the issue of gay marriage. Many are willing to cede that the word "marriage" should not be used to describe gay civil unions, but most of those also want to eliminate the word from all legal references as well. Essentially, they want the government to recognize nothing but civil unions, regardless of the participants, and leave "marriage" up to those religious folk who choose to call their unions such. Those who have their doubts or concerns are roundly ignored.

Is Unity08 for or against troop withdrawals, time-tables, surges and all the other stuff swirling in debates about the Iraq war? You honestly can't pin it down to any one plan, but it seems to be landing well on the side of a near-term withdrawal. Personally, I think that's a good idea for reasons I may explicate in a later post, but I don't know how that's going to play to middle America, especially if there isn't a lot of sound reasoning behind it.

There are, of course, many other issues that need to be discussed, but from what I've seen, most of the participants are ending up left-of-center in their views, which does not bode well for Unity08's chances. It is also not clear how having a Republican president and Democrat VP (or vice versa) will result in any more bipartisanship than we currently see. Whoever is the top man (or woman this time around) still wields the greatest power and is still at least somewhat beholden to his party and its base. There is nothing to say or require that the VP will have any more power or say in the way things are run. If the President doesn't want to let them throw their 2 cents in, they will be sidelined.

Representative of this problem is the attitude of many on the website who don't even want to hear opposing views. One such poster requested a function to screen all comments from "those who aren't contributing positively to this movement." Many of the threads seem to be degenerating into little more than ad hominem attacks, petty stereotyping and the airing of old grievances. Is this any way to build a new political movement? One that aims to shake up the current system and retake the executive office for the center of American politics that seems to be largely ignored? It sure doesn't seem like it. I don't know how Unity08 can expect to overcome these issues, especially with a nearly non-existent presence of the founders & leaders in the web-forum. Since these forums are the only way Unity08 can build a platform or identify the qualities they want in a candidate, these seems tantamount to suicidal incompetence.

Ultimately, I hope Unity08 is able to shake things up a bit. I'd like things to not be so caught up in the extremes of either party. But I also seriously doubt that this kind of ground-up democracy can really work in such a polarized era. Unless the leadership takes on the burden of seriously trying to build a bridge and find constructive ways forward, I think Unity08 will end up as little more than an interesting historical footnote.


Does attendance = approval?

Driving home from clinicals this afternoon, I was hopping around the radio dial and ended up on a Catholic AM station. I would normally listen to NPR when I'm in the mood for talk, but they were discussing the new diet drug "Alli" and I've dealth with more than enough fecal incontinence to not need to hear about it on the radio. A caller revisited a topic the host had discussed in a previous show, wherein he told someone that it would be wrong for him/her to attend a wedding of a Catholic to a non-Catholic. The caller, who described her family as "very Catholic", was troubled by the host's statement because her son (himself apparently quite Catholic, as well) is engaged to a non-Catholic and she found the idea that she should boycott the wedding, and possibly the reception, to be "arrogant, harsh, legalistic and unloving." The host's response was rather lackluster and it wasn't entirely clear whether or not a Catholic marrying a Protestant or Orthodox is more acceptable in his mind than marrying a Buddhist or some such.

Initially, I favored the argument of the mother. How is it witnessing to the love of Christ to refuse to attend your own son's wedding? What kind of message does that send to the would-be daughter-in-law? I'm not one for an overly pragmatic view of things - what's right should be done regardless of how others perceive it - so the question is what's right? Is communicating disapproval of the marriage right? I agree there are some serious problems with the marriage of a believer to a non-believer, problems internal to the marriage, to the individuals and externally to the community of believers. So if the disapproval is correct, is this the best way to communicate that? Is showing love right? Of course, is that really showing love? If you truly believe that Christ is the answer to the most important questions and that the marriage relationship incarnationally expresses God's relationship with those who believe he is the answer, well then, it really isn't very loving to let someone go on thinking that they're okey-dokey without him. Denying your beliefs for the sake of some culturally-arbitrary definition of "loving" sure doesn't make the grade. But all of these questions are murky, with nebulous boundaries smudged by shoddy thinking and poorly grounded faith. I doubt that many people in today's America are really able to think clearly on these issues, especially not people of my generation. We've got too many different influences, most of them well-intentioned but still hopelessly wrong, to be able to chart a clear course. And if, by miracle or luck, we are able to faithfully and thoughtfully find a position we think corresponds to God's, it is highly unlikely that our arguments will seem convincing to many others. (I know this sounds pretty negative, but frankly, after listening to my peers discuss deep and difficult ethical questions surrounding the beginning and end of life, I realize that my generation not only doesn't have the intellectual and moral ability to think through these subjects, they don't care to even try.) So arguing, as the host and caller did, from a utilitarian perspective is, in itself, not very utilitarian; it just won't get the job done. One person is talking about hammers and the other about screwdrivers and they frequently don't realize they're on different subjects.

The questions raised by the caller made me think back to a few years ago when my wife and I attended a wedding of a Catholic to a non-Catholic (Protestant, in this case). It was held at a Catholic church, presided over by a Catholic priest and, contrary to what I thought was the norm, was over in less than 30 minutes. Probably more like 20. Anyways, the reason it was so short its because the Mass was not performed. There were vows, some music, an exchange of rings - you know, the traditional stuff. Except it isn't traditional at all. These elements were divorced from the truly traditional context of worship that culminated in the Eucharistic sharing of Christ, with the added significance of this newly forged marriage-relationship that is but a shadow of the relationship between Christ and His church. That service was not the spectator sport that weddings have presently become. It was an entrance into a sacrament, a new way of relating to God and to this wonderfully made spouse, experiencing like never before God's love for us. The ceremony I saw was essentially a civil proceeding being overseen by an official, who happened to also be a religious leader, who had been invested with the legal authority to witness 2 parties entering into a contractual relationship of a domestic nature, in front of a group of onlookers. Though both of these individuals were (and are) Christians and their marriage bears the fruit of that comingled faith, the ceremony itself was not Christian, not really. Though we were there as a community, we were not there to worship. Though we all (or only some)believed in Christ, we did not share in His body - either in communion or as a church.

This, I think, is where the host's argument should have been made. Thinking more broadly, the marriage of a Christian to a non-Christian isn't really "marriage" from the perspective of the church precisely because the joining cannot be made as, and in the prescence of, the church. It cannot be done in worship and communion. And if that is how marriage is supposed to begin - as a celebration of God's love and relationship with man - and if that is how it is supposed to be lived, then it is very difficult for me to conceive of any situation wherein such a wedding can have the sanction and blessing of the faithful. No ceremony or ritual can overcome the distance that truly separates these 2 people, or the church body from the non-believer. So participating in a religi-fied ceremony that takes on the trappings of the church's worshipful celebration without any of its content is problematic at the very least. Looking at things from this perspective, I tend to favor the host's view, though I see several difficult questions that our present cultural context raises and certainly agree that such a position can come off as harsh and arrogant.

Can Christians participate and/or attend purely civil marriage ceremonies? Is our presence an implicit blessing of that union? Or is it merely being a spectator and demonstrating our love for one (or both) of the parties involved?