Religion, in a variety of ways, has moved to the forefront of the Republican primary campaigns. The list of candidates includes several Protestant evangelicals, two Mormons and two Catholics. On “life” issues, all of these candidates proclaim themselves to be anti-abortion; but Catholic teaching emphasizes an extensive range of life issues beyond abortion—from stem cell research to hospital care to opposition to torture and to the death penalty.
Among the candidates, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is the one who in his speeches and writing has most publicly identified himself with Jesus Christ. At the same time, although most politicians support the death penalty, Mr. Perry’s record stands out for its severity.
Governor Perry has overseen the execution of 234 persons in 11 years, more than any other governor in modern history. And he is proud of this. “If you don’t support the death penalty and citizens packing a pistol, don’t come to Texas,” he once wrote. He vetoed a bill that would have spared the mentally retarded and criticized a Supreme Court decision that ruled out executing juveniles. His most controversial decision was to allow the execution in 2004 of Cameron Todd Willingham, who had been convicted of killing his three daughters in 1991 by burning down his own house. An independent investigator concluded that the initial examination of the fire was based on junk science and shoddy techniques and that Willingham could not be guilty. But when the investigator presented the report to Governor Perry, he ignored it and allowed the execution to proceed that very day.
That is not the moral or religious leadership expected of a president.Family Matters
In advance of Hurricane Irene, government officials began using an unfamiliar phrase to describe preparations for the storm. Press releases distributed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency highlighted the “Federal Family’s Preparation and Response.” On Aug. 28 Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, announced that “the entire federal family is working as one to support the affected states.”
The administration’s critics were quick to respond. Ed Henry, the White House correspondent for Fox News, tweeted: “Branding alert: Interesting how WH dropped word ‘government’...calling it ‘federal family.’” “If my ‘family’ was $14 trillion in debt I’d put myself up for adoption,” Michelle Malkin sneered. The phrase may be part of a re-branding campaign, but it is not new. Both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush used the term at different times. Even the now infamous Michael D. Brown, the director of FEMA in 2004, referred to the “federal family” in remarks before Hurricane Katrina.
Catholics know, of course, that the government is not a family and cannot pretend to be one. Pope Benedict XVI recently reiterated the church’s teaching that family and marriage are the foundation of society. Yet sometimes, especially in times of emergency, the nuclear family needs support. That support can come from the church or other charitable institutions, but also from the government. For some people—elderly widows, abused children, the disabled—public institutions are the only entities that can provide the help they need. This simple but contentious fact was confirmed in the wake of Hurricane Irene, when government workers played an essential role in rescue and recovery. Call them family, neighbors or civil servants; the name does not matter. What matters is that they were there.An iBishop?
On Aug. 24 Steve Jobs announced his resignation as the chief executive officer of Apple Inc., which he co-founded in the 1970s. Much laudatory commentary followed. Mr. Jobs changed the world of movies and music and books. He did not supply new plots and images but changed how the people watched what they wanted to see. He did not compose new tunes and lyrics but changed how the world received, stored and played music. He did not write new books but changed how the world read and kept and reread those books. The entrenched music and publishing industries felt threatened and resisted but eventually came around, seeing that Mr. Jobs was ultimately working with them.
“Mr. Jobs did not so much see around corners; he saw things in plain sight that others did not,” wrote David Carr in The New York Times. Steve Jobs saw what modern people wanted before they knew they wanted it. And he knew how to make it available and attractive. The Apple store on Fifth Avenue in New York is open 24 hours a day.
One hears that young people want what the church has to offer, but they cannot find it in that church. The delivery system fails. Imagine a Bishop Steve Jobs. What would his diocese—the Diocese of Appleton, perhaps—look like? How would entrenched interests react to his challenge? What is out there in plain sight that he would see and point out to fellow church leaders? How would he change not the message, not the content, not the words but the delivery system? The human side of the church could use the energy of new vision.