William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery

Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End SlaveryDespite his impact on western civilization, William Wilberforce is often forgotten. If remembered it is merely for his impact on ending slavery. But there is much more to the man and his story.

He began (what we would call college) as a life of insouciance. He attended class, but with little seriousness. There was lots of time for “discussion” with his friends and the life of a gentleman. After finishing at school, he had some money, and so we bought a seat in Parliament.

Buying is the appropriate word because voters were expected to be paid for their inconvenience. In addition, he held an ox roast: a very rare and expensive event, but it all paid off in terms of getting him elected.

The “Great Change” (as he called it), took place on a trip. He had asked Isaac Milner, an Anglican priest who had been his childhood tutor, along on the trip. Milner was ordained, but  like many clergy of his day, did not appear to be very fervent. However, as the two of them discussed issues, it became a serious discussion. Wilberforce had a great conversion. He seriously considered leaving politics altogether, but was persuaded to remain.

A second person whom Wilberforce had known since his youth as John Newton, another Anglican clergyman who had also been a sailor, captain of a slave ship, and later wrote “Amazing Grace.” As is said, “It’s all in the relationship.”

His Christian belief challenged him to believe that certain things followed from his faith, and one of them was that slavery was wrong. His faith was serious and profound. In fact, he kept lists of people and marked their names with suggestions as to how he could either convince them to faith or at least nudge them along the way.

His campaign to end slavery took a long time. It was seriously believed by most people that slavery was simply a necessary evil that was needed to maintain civilization. Without this “free labor” the economy would simply not function. Slavery was thought to be part of the human condition.

The men’s group at St. Michael is reading this, and it is well worth the read!


Assault on Intelligence

The Assault on Intelligence Michael Hayden is a former director of the C.I.A. He is currently retired.

His primary thesis is that we no longer rely primary on facts and data, but rather on feelings and what we think or hope to be the case.  We tend to live in silos.  We only talk about issues important to us with people who already agree with us and confirm our beliefs.  We thus avoid answering or asking hard questions like “What are the hard facts or data that make something so?”

The central person he focuses on is President Trump. But he is very clear that President Trump is not the cause of this phenomenon; he is the result of it. He provides examples of how it works, but it really is much deeper in our society and social discourse that the president. While he critiques the president, he seems to try to be fair and respectful.

An example would be the issue of the FBI “embedding” some one in his campaign. When pressed for facts, Mr. Trump responds with, “A lot of people agree with me,” or “Just look at the basics.” He doesn’t have a name or a circumstance of how this happened.

By now means is Mr. Hayden “playing politics.” He is a career military and intelligence officers. He has given his life in the service of providing the most accurate information possible for the political and military leaders of the U.S. His concern is that when leadership (and not just Mr. Trump) do not listen to facts and data, we can have a serious problem.

Democracy requires open discussion of the facts. We need freedom of speech, not just to let people share their opinions, but also to debate information so that we can arrive at the best solutions based on the most accurate facts.

Our political debates have degenerated into opinions and feelings without reference to facts. Francisco Cantú in The Line Becomes a River points out, for instance, that in all the talk about building a wall, we forget that we have already built on. In the early 2000’s, Congress authorized and President Bush built approximately 700 miles of wall along the U.S.–Mexican border (the other miles are mountain and desert). No one, pro-wall or anti-wall, makes reference to it.

Our communities and nation need clear facts and open debate. The common good is not served by half-truths or only feelings. Facts matter.


Our Blindspots

Last Thursday Fr. David in his homily said that we have blindspots.  We have them when we drive a car; there is a spot we cannot see. The rich man (Dives) in the parable, he had a blind spot for Lazarus. He saw him–he later mentions his name–but he never really “saw” him. He ignored him.

The same is true of how we treat the DACA people, the Dreamers, and the undocumented in general. We quickly remember that they are here without authorization. That one quality becomes the one thing we see. It’s the one thing we use to define who they are. It is the measure with which we judge them and how we treat them.

But we have many blind spots. We forget that the undocumented are a major reason why we can have the lifestyle that we do. Since they are undocumented we don’t know how many they are or where they all are, but we do know:

  • They are a major part of the workforce that works the fields where food is grown.
  • They help harvest the crops.
  • They work in the dairies where we get our milk.
  • They work in slaughterhouses and poultry plants.
  • They work in restaurant kitchens where we eat.
  • They work in the construction business that builds our homes.
  • They take care of our children.
  • They clean our homes.
  • …and more.

We all benefit greatly from the work they do. They make our homes cheaper. They provide much of our food. They literally put some of the food on our plates. They wash the plates when we’re done.

They are mothers and fathers. They are families. They are people who make our lives comfortable, and they have been doing it for about twenty years. And they have been doing it living in fear.

Children comes to school, not certain their parents will be there when they return. Parents go to work, not certain they will make it home. Parents have been stopped, handcuffed and taken from their children.

Yes, they broke a law. But they pay a very high price every day. They work cheaply and live in constant fear.  And we have a much better lifestyle because of it. We shouldn’t define them only because of a legal violation. We can have a process where we “screen” them and help them gain status.  We can fix it.


The Catholic Bishops of the United States (USCCB) have requested Catholics call their Congressional representatives on Monday in support of Dreamers:

“We are also announcing a National Catholic Call-In Day to Protect Dreamers. This coming weekend, we will be asking the faithful across the nation to call their Members of Congress next MondayFebruary 26, to protect Dreamers from deportation, to provide them a path to citizenship, and to avoid any damage to existing protections for families and unaccompanied minors in the process.

“Our faith compels us to stand with the vulnerable, including our immigrant brothers and sisters. We have done so continually, but we must show our support and solidarity now in a special way. Now is the time for action.”

Helpful suggestion:

1. Please call 855-589-5698 to reach the Capitol switchboard and press 1 to connect to your Senator (press 2 for Representative). Once you are connected to the Senator’s offices, please ask the person on the phone to deliver this simple message to your legislator:

“I urge you to support a bipartisan, common-sense, and humane solution for Dreamers:

Protect Dreamers from deportation and provide them with a path to citizenship.

Reject proposals that undermine family immigration or protections for unaccompanied children.

As a Catholic, I know that families are not ‘chains,’ but a blessing to be protected.

Act now to protect Dreamers, our immigrant brothers and sisters.”

Latino Enrollment Initiative

I recently attended the Latino Enrollment Initiative with the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) at Notre Dame. Amy Weidner and Barbara Blad attended with me. It was very interesting, information, and challenging.

The statistics were overwhelming:

  • by 2020, Latinos will be the majority of Catholics in the U.S.
  • Latinos who attend Catholic schools are 42% more likely to graduate from high school.
  • Latinos who graduate from Catholic schools are 2.5 times more likely to graduate from college than their peers in public schools.
  • 54% of Catholic parents with school age children are Latino.
  • Children who attend Catholic school are much more likely to attend Mass.
  • Children who attend Catholic school are much more likely to practice their Faith, attend Mass, be leaders in the Church, to vote, and to be engaged in civic life.

Parishes need to see their schools as a ministry which evangelizes all the children of the parish. The school has to be welcoming, accessible, affordable, and culturally appropriate.

Province Assembly

Over 300 Holy Cross priests and brothers gathered at the University of Notre Dame for a province assembly. It wasn’t a meeting to make decisions, nor was it exactly a spiritual retreat. Many described it as a family reunion.

But in a way, even though not legislative or a retreat, it provides the opportunity to reflect on our values and decide how we should act on them. Bishop Robert Lynch, the retired bishop of St. Petersburg, FL, provided some thoughts to help us to think and to guide us.

He spoke of the Church entering a new epoch. It’s a time for a Christian Humanism. Our values of faith need to guide us to heal, not hurt.

The bishop of San Diego talks about an economy that kills. One might say that’s an overstatement, but the reality is that some people cannot afford both food and medicine; the result is that they die sooner than they should. There are others who live in fear of their families being torn apart by deportation. There are others who are caught up in mass incarceration and who may never fully participate in society again.

Our call is to help heal, not hurt.

Dream Hoarders

Dream Hoarders

Richard Reeves book’ Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why Is That a Problem, and What to Do about It and his New York Times editorial (June 10, 2017) paint a picture of society where “American society is more calcified by class than Britain, especially toward the top.”

He says that the upper 20% of U.S. society has it pretty good, and despite claims that people can be upwardly mobile, there are three ways the upper middle class has things rather closed.

Peter Temin in The Vanishing Middle Class seems to go a step farther. He seems to add intention to the equation. The upper middle class has set up a world for themselves and is not very interested in the well-being of the rest of society. He seems them as disinterested in investing in their education, health care, and opportunities. It becomes very difficult if, not impossible, to move upward.

Reeves says that there are three main reasons:

First, housing. There is a long history to housing. African Americans often point out that many white Americans made their biggest financial gains through the increase in value of their housing. For many white families this was housing which was partially financed by the federal government under programs initiated by Frank D. Roosevelt. African Americans were clearly excluded by FDR as a way of getting Southern support. While white Americans were able to get new homes financed with federal help, black Americans were redlined. Land and housing increased in value usually faster than money. (Cf. Peter Temin, The Vanishing Middle Class).  Zoning laws limit the size, cost, and value of homes. Some people are kept out of certain areas.

Second, education. Public schools are organized by geography. The best public schools are located in the wealthiest school districts; even within the school districts, the schools in the wealthier areas always have the best resources. The top level colleges and universities usually have legacy admissions. Students of graduates have either an automatic admission or at least a better chance of getting in. Reeves points out that the United States is the only country in the world where that still happens. Because of admission standards and cost and legacy admissions, less wealthier students are less likely to get in to the top universities.

Third, internships and entrance to employment. Many jobs now require some kind of internship. Who knows whom is often the key as to where people get internships and opportunities for employment.

It reminds me of the words of Jesus to Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar: “Everything is fixed, and you can’t change it.” It may not be fixed, but it is very hard to break into the upper levels.