‘God Has Never Left Us’
From more than a mile underground, a letter came up from one of the 33 men trapped in the Chilean mine. “There are actually 34 of us here,” wrote Jimmy Sanchez, age 19, “God has never left us down here.” Those words may be worth more than a year of homilies on “the mystery of suffering.”
For several weeks, the world was transfixed by the saga of the men trapped in the collapsed mine and by the heroic attempts to rescue them. Much of the coverage centered on the technical know-how required to bring the men to the surface. Diagrams of the burrowing machines were reminiscent of the images of the drilling equipment used only a few months before in the Gulf of Mexico to control the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This time, however, the workers on the surface were focused not on stopping the upsurge of a natural resource, but on raising up a more valuable resource: human life.
While the media focused on technology, however, many miners were focused on God. “I was with God, and I was with the devil,” said Mario Sepulveda, “and God won.” Mario Gómez, one of the oldest miners, fell to his knees in prayer after his ordeal ended. What the miners experienced is hard to imagine, but the experience of suffering is not. Many feel, in tough times, as did Mr. Sepulveda, the inner struggle between despair and hope.
The cynic will wonder why God did not simply prevent the catastrophe from happening in the first place. The miners most likely had such a question too, but were still able to trust in God, the one who never leaves us.
The Bronx Eleven
The case of the Bronx Eleven demands that we look at our culture and ask who we are. Eleven Bronx Latino gang members (ages 16 to 23), drunk on malt liquor, tortured for hours two teens and a 30-year-old and his older brother, whom they also robbed.
Consider this in the confused context of how we deal with homosexuality. The Republican candidate for governor of New York condemns the gay lifestyle; then, to prove he is not homophobic, he outs his nephew. A Rutgers University student commits suicide after his roommate secretly films him being intimate wih a male and puts it on the Internet. A judge voids the Army’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” regulation, but some senior officers resist.
Police failed to note the gang had been partying in the empty apartment all summer. When a 17-year-old new gang member was seen associating with a 30-year-old homosexual, they lured the older man to a party. There he and two teens who were thought to be gay were stripped, beaten and sodomized. News reports depict poverty-stricken young men, some with arrest records but without education, drunk, aimless, desperate to dominate someone weak. Two of the teen torturers have recently impregnated their girlfriends.
One teen victim, appearing confused, says he is still considered “one of the brothers.” They all went to church together. It wasn’t personal, he was told, just discipline. He claims that he is in fact not gay. He also says he has learned something: “Gangs are no good, for anyone. Being in a gang will get you nowhere.” Though this is true, this is not the only lesson that he—and we—have to learn.
Voting Rights for All
Thanks to the restoration of voting rights to people who have served their prison sentences for felonies, 800,000 more Americans will be able to go the polls in November. Since 1997, reform of state disenfranchisement laws in 23 states has moved steadily toward the goal of total restoration for all. But this goal is still far off. A coalition of organizations is pressing for the passage of the Democracy Restoration Act, legislation sponsored by Senator Russ Feingold, of Wisconsin, and Representative John Conyers Jr., of Michigan, both Democrats. The legislation would restore voting rights to all citizens who have been released from prison. Currently five million people remain disenfranchised. Racial disparities are evident among them. In Kentucky, for instance, the disenfranchisement rate for African-Americans is almost four times what it is for other citizens.
So far, nine states have either repealed or amended lifetime disenfranchisement laws. Because New Mexico has repealed its lifetime disenfranchisement provision, almost 70,000 more individuals can now vote. Maryland, too, has restored voting rights to over 50,000 Americans. New Jersey just this year passed a comprehensive package of voting reforms that included lifting the ban on food stamps for persons with felony drug convictions—a major problem for mothers returning home after incarceration. Texas has been reforming its disenfranchisement laws since 1983. Once a state that imposed a lifetime prohibition, it now automatically restores voting rights for all on completion of sentence. Because voting is one of the fundamental rights of citizenship, the Democracy Restoration Act should be enacted into law.