Change I Can Believe In

I am currently in Washington, D.C. It is now 12:00 AM, cold outside, and there is much excitement in the nation’s capital. I would like to take a few moments to offer a reflection because I fear I will not have an opportunity tomorrow — with the inauguration, the parade, other celebrations, and my flight home late tomorrow evening.

I am here with a family friend who courteously invited me to attend this historic event. She is the epitome of the modern feminist liberal Democrat, to say the least. However, she has been very gracious to me and my family and is entirely contributive to my Catholic education. We are staying with a friend of hers, who happens to be a lesbian, named Victoria, in an over twenty year relationship; her partner, for the lack of better terms, Elizabeth works for EMILY’s List, which is an organization that works to elect “pro-choice” women to Congress and other high offices. There is another guest here, also a lesbian, who was actually “married” in Connecticut after gay marriage was legalized and since the state government of New York recognizes the marriages of other states. Quite a situation for a Catholic conscience, but God visited with sinners — I am one — so I can do the same with attempted humility and respect.

I can’t emphasize enough how interesting it has been to be a pro-life feminist, chaste homosexual Catholic Democratic male who voted for McCain in this house the last few days, particularly in talking about abortion and gay marriage with these women. Don’t worry, we’ve all gotten along. In other news, I met both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Nancy Pelosi. Hillary has a very weak handshake and Pelosi seems as incompetent in person as she does on television. These are just my own observations. There was a pro-choice EMILY’s List luncheon that both Clinton and Pelosi attended. I got to see them before the event began. I opted to go to Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (which it is VERY heartening to see the number of African American Catholics in this city — it made me very happy) instead of attending the luncheon — the slogan “When Women Vote, Women Win” was the last reminder I needed that I shouldn’t be there. I’m sure pro-lifers were demonized and Roe v. Wade was celebrated as a “victory” for women when it could not be further from the truth. But this is just a side story.

Washington, D.C. is filled with excitement and joy. The Obama paraphernalia is everywhere, in the form of almost anything you can think of. I’ve gotten so much free Obama merchandise (Victoria works for the library of Congress), I almost don’t know what to do with it all. I do know that the city is alive and people have come from many places and are excited. For many reasons, I am excited too. My grandmother could not come with me, but before I left, we talked for hours about what she had experienced in this country in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s and with tears said she never thought that she would live to see this moment.

Today, because it has such a profound meaning for me personally, I read Martin Luther King’s Letter From A Birmingham Jail. There was a few things this brilliant, brilliant man said that could not be anymore consonant with the Catholic intellectual tradition and a gift from God to the American people. King addressed those who he called “white moderates” whom supported equality for African Americans, but were concerned much about the manner in which it were done. He wrote:

Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you no forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

This was beautiful, but the high point for me came later:

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws…I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

This had a double meaning for me. I’d like to share the less self-evident meaning. There is a profound temptation that I think I can somewhat understand on the part of political conservatives to address and treat liberal Democrats the way they and their president were treated in the last eight years–with bitterness and distasteful pessimism that is not all constructive to the political process. I partially share in this bitterness. While I am a Democrat and for many reasons will not miss the presidency of George W. Bush, I will be direly concerned and attentive about the respect for life by the incoming Democratic regime.

Martin Luther King, Jr. renewed my sense of what it meant to be a pro-life Democrat. I have many friends who are pro-life Democrats who do not share my philosophical beliefs and do not necessarily believe that overturning Roe v. Wade in the short term will solve the problem of abortion. I think they’re profoundly mistaken and to me, they take on the position of the “white moderates” — more concerned about order, maintaining some so-called stability and false sense of peace, succumbing to the false notion that the very right to life of human beings can be placed on a timetable, while millions of unborn children are being slaughtered — 42 million or more around the world in 365 days. The gravity and scope of this horror is insurmountable. I think their hearts are in the right place, but the view is terribly misguided. Peace only comes through justice. Human life cannot wait for a culture to decide there is a right to life. It took us 200 years to realize this with civil rights, can we wait that long for the most fundamental natural right?

It is to my knowledge that Obama is already considering rolling back Bush’s Mexico City Policy and halt on funding embryonic stem cell research. These are immediate and terrible threats that must be addressed. This is a sure reminder that creating a “Culture of Life” cannot be some abstract notion that only arises every time we approach an election season. It is an everyday duty. As Catholics, blessed with the “fullness of the truth,” we are well positioned to assist the incoming president and our fellow Americans with the vision of positive change that everyone is talking about, thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit and two millennia of tradition and wisdom of so many Catholics throughout the ages envisioning an authentic vision of the human person that will better enable us to creatively build a society for human flourishing.

This is the change I see. This is the change we need. All else is politics, temporal, and meaningless. We all have different roles to play. I see mine as working in the party of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Your role may not be the same. But, it is certain, we all have a common purpose and a common dream and that’s the beatific vision for all of mankind.

Martin Luther King, Jr. — God bless this man — said that he “had a dream.” I have seen a many of t-shirts claiming that it has been realized. In some ways, yes; in many others, not at all. Dr. King proclaimed that peace and equality came with the fight for justice and this fight, I believe, must begin with the unborn and that is a fight that is still in progress. We must fight for life, from the moment of conception, everywhere in between, to the point of natural death. We can bring this change because it has already been won. Real change you can believe in comes through Christ the Lord. The task is burdensome and the laborers few. Let’s fight for justice, my friends.

Tomorrow, the United States will have its 44th president, who is an African American man. I am proud to witness this so early in my life. I will pray a rosary for him during the celebration for him, his family, our country, and this world.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God cast into hell Satan and all evil spirits wandering the earth for the ruin of souls. Amen.


7 Responses to Change I Can Believe In

  1. Tito Edwards says:

    I too will pray for President-elect (soon to be President) Obama.

    Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great intellect from my understanding. Unfortunately, many Democrats of color pale in comparison to this good man. Yes, Cornel West can’t stand up to MLK’s intellect and grasp of issues. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a Catholic, is one (of many) that comes to mind that can stand shoulder to shoulder with MLK in intellectual capacity.

    Just a friendly historical reminder that it was the Democrats that started the Civil War and it was the Republicans that pushed through all the great civil rights legislation of the 1960’s.

    It certainly will be a historic day for the greatest nation on earth, America.

  2. Ryan Harkins says:

    I have a dream, Eric, in which Republicans and Democrats do not put aside their differences, but adhere fully to the truths taught by the Catholic Church and then proceed to decide the right course from there. I have a dream that the arguing and maneuvering will be no less loud or contentious, but that it is conducted in charity and an earnest desire to serve this nation rather than interest group or pocket book.

    Frankly, I have no desire to see you become Republican. You’ve done an excellent job in challenging my viewpoint and helping me see the larger picture. Keep at it, and from well within the trenches of the party of FDR.

    God bless President Barack Obama. My He give our new leader the graces he needs to serve this nation well and fully; to respect life in all forms from conception to natural death; to work towards peace; it be intelligent, diligent, honest, forthcoming, and responsible; to love and cherish his family and raise them with strong, unswerving Christian values.

  3. Sometimes really interesting posts don’t get many comments, because you’re not really sure what to say about them. It’s certainly not because they’re not read, however.

    I found especially interesting your discussion of the white moderates whom King addressed, and the pro-life analogy that you made. In a sense, it’s a prototypical conservative/progressive dichotomy: fear of the disruption of sudden change versus desire to right a wrong immediately. And it’s an example of how to a great extent many Christian “liberals” have started deploying a conservative argument for keeping abortion legal: Sure it may be wrong, but it would cause all sorts of trouble both to our party and disruptions in our country as a whole if we were to roll back Roe, so we’d better take things slow and get things to the point where no one wants an abortion anyway (which at least to my understanding of a fallen world would be: never) before we move to restrict it.

    In that sense, it’s an example of how the conservative instinct and the progressive instinct both have appropriate places — being one or the other all the time will often result in doing the wrong thing some of the time.

    Or to badly paraphrase Chesterton: “Conservatives insist that we continue to make the mistakes of the past, while progressives urge us to make new ones.”

  4. Matt McDonald says:


    fear of the disruption of sudden change versus desire to right a wrong immediately

    I’m not really sure that this fear is a tenet of conservatism, only that it is attributed to conservatives because they are resistant to many changes. I suggest they are resistant to changes because they are bad more than they are afraid of change in general.

    I think that the homosexual lobby uses a similar approach, calling us “homophobic” for opposing indoctrination of the culture.

    Now even changes for the good sometimes need to be moved slowly to avoid causing more harm than good, but that’s not necessarily fear but is quite reasonable, although in some cases it could be and could certainly appear to be the case.

    I’m also not sure that the “progressive” instinct is strictly an embrace of change but of particular types of changes.

    My perspectives could be based on our current situation where I believe that the perceived middle is so far to the left that what we perceive as conservative is really the middle of a more balanced perspective. Looking at the Catholic hierarchy, I doubt any pontiff before John XXIII would consider Benedict conservative, but relative to the US bishops, he’s pretty hard right. In that sense, I think bishops like Bruskewitz and Burke are the solid middle in an authentic view.

    While I’m rambling, I might suggest that we who are considered conservative are not trying to make the mistakes of the past, but simply reverse the mistaken innovations of the last 60 years.

    God Bless,


  5. Matt,

    I’ve been slowly working on a post on this topic, so mostly I’ll beg your patience till I have a chance to fully lay out my case, but a couple quick clarifications of what I’m trying to describe here:

    – When I say conservatives “fear” disruption I don’t necessarily mean that fear is irrational or panicked, just that as conservatives we lean heavily towards being warry of the disruptions (including unforseen disruptions that are nonetheless probably out there) resulting from sudden change.

    – I would tend to argue that “conservative” and “progressive” are relative terms to a great extent. The cultural and political values which a conservative like William F. Buckley or Fr. Neuhaus wants to see “preserved” in the modern US are values which 100 years or more ago would have been seen as fairly progressive in their liberality compared to the institutions which ancien regime adherants wanted to preserve.

    – The progressive instinct in a given time and place is heavily guided by the spirit of the age. So for instance, while in 1900 both votes for women and racist eugenics were seen as “progressive”, today feminism is seen as progressive but racism is seen as “retrograde” — because the social values which drive progressivism have changed. In this sense, I’d say one of the reasons why so many progressives are urging things which we as Christians see as wrong in this day and age is because the wider culture has strayed so far from Christianity. To the extent that Christian values are seen as a relic of the past on topics like abortion, marriage, family, etc. at this time in the US, it’s mostly conservatives who want to preserve them while secular progressives want to “move on” from them.

  6. Matt McDonald says:

    To some extent I agree that progressive and conservative are often relative terms to the times, however I still believe that there is an underlying philosophy which distinguishes conservatives from progressives. Thomas Woods has a series of essays published as “Catholics In the Progressive Era” which is rather interesting. Everything that Catholic intellectuals opposed then are still wrong, even though they are largely accepted on the main (Dewey’s educational philosophy for example). At the same time these orthodox men embraced some of the developments which came along.

    It seems to me that the staunch Catholics of the past would not have been seen as “conservative” or “progressive” but simply “Catholic”, sharing some of the policies of each side. Philosophically, I think we are far closer to conservatism than progressivism. That assumes you can disgard the excesses of particular elements, and the false accusations, such as “conservatives don’t care about the poor”.

    Perhaps a self-described progressive Catholic could tell us more about his philosophy, it honestly appears to be a dichotomy to me.

    God Bless,


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