Faith: The Journal of the International League of Religious Socialists

Summer 2003 Edition (HTML Version)

Previous Editions
ILRS Congress To Take Place in Lucerne, 15-17 August 2003
Sharia Law and the Case of Amina Lawal
Remembering Dorothee Sölle
Fundamentalism in the Roman Catholic Church

ILRS Congress To Take Place in Lucerne, 15-17 August 2003

In August the International League of Religious Socialists (ILRS) will hold its triennial Congress in Lucerne, Switzerland.

It is quite appropriate that we should meet in Switzerland, because it is in Switzerland that so much of the inspiration for our movement began, through the work of Leonhard and Clara Ragaz. Indeed, Switzerland hosted many of the very first religious socialist conferences in the world in the 1920s, and the idea of bringing together socialists of different faiths began in no small part through the dialogue between Ragaz and Martin Buber. It is in this spirit of dialogue and understanding that we continue our work today.

Organised through the help of our Swiss member organisation, the ReSos, the theme of our Saturday seminar is ‘Who Is Our God? The Basis of Religious Socialism’. We have asked our member organisations to share with us their own definitions of religious socialism, as well as the experiences they face when working to build a religious socialist perspective in their societies. We will feature reports from the Congress in the Autumn 2003 edition of Faith. Those wishing to participate should contact their national ILRS member organisation or if there is not an organisation in your country, contact the ILRS secretariat directly.

This Congress also marks the end of an era for the ILRS, as Evert Svensson, our President for the past twenty years, will be stepping down from his position this year. Many of us who do not know an ILRS without Evert have already begun to feel the responsibility of his legacy, as his years of service to the League have seen our membership grow beyond northern Europe, our entry into the Socialist International, and our continuing work to help the peace process in the Middle East. We wish him much happiness and success in his future endeavours.

Sharia Law and the Case of Amina Lawal

The case of Amina Lawal has brought international attention to the use of Sharia law in certain Nigerian states, as well as in other parts of the world.

Amina Lawal is a 30-year old woman from the northern Nigerian state of Katsina. In March of 2002 she was sentenced to death by stoning, under the penal code of Islamic Sharia law which is now the law of that state. She is currently awaiting an appeal of her case, scheduled now for 27 August 2003.

Her crime? Having a child outside of marriage.

Human rights and political organisations throughout the world have raised their voices in condemnation of the practice of sharia law, which affects Muslims living under jurisdictions where this code has been adopted as the civil law. (Non-Muslims are not judged by sharia law, so this amounts to people being judged differently because of their religion.) Since its implementation in Nigeria, hundreds of people have been subjected to cruel and inhumane punishments such as amputations, floggings, and torture methods for any actions that may be interpreted as an offence of sharia law.

The Socialist International has included its concern over sharia law in two of its campaigns, to abolish the death penalty and to end violence against women. In a similar vein, Amnesty International has championed Amina Lawal's cause and has initiated a letter writing campaign to the Nigerian government, not only about her case, but about other cases where judgments based upon sharia law are resulting in more and more women and men alike being sentenced to death for 'crimes' that would not be considered crimes by anyone else but religious fundamentalists.

We invite you to learn more about this case, and to sign on to the petition demanding freedom for Amina Lawal. Your action today could literally save her life and the lives of others currently awaiting a sentence of death.

Click here to learn more and add your voice to those calling for an end to the sharia-based penal codes.

Remembering Dorothee Sölle

(Man kann hier den ganzen Artikel auf Deutsch lesen.)

The following is an abridged English translation of a speech by German theologian Dorothee Sölle, who passed away in May. Alois Reisenbichler of ACUS has sent this on to us, and the entire text is available in German by clicking the link above.

Many years ago I had a conversation with an American friend about the arms trade, in which he said that there were two different highly idols that our world worshipped. He called them Mammon, or money, and Mars, the God of war. "Mammon kills more little children than Mars."

This sentence, that Mammon always kills more children, is ever more true, more valid. We live in a new epoch, which in many senses is more barbaric than the earlier forms of capitalism. I was an ardent adversary of the 'Adenauersystem', because the price of its econnomic miracles was engaging in the arms trade, but today I find that I am a bit nostalgic with respect to 'Rhein capitalism', how one from that time kindly called it, because it at least connected the interests of capital with social welfare and a responsibility for the weaker among us.

That's the way it is with globalization from above, with neoliberalism, the turbo-capitalism of our recent past. Social concerns have become superfluous. The self-enrichment of the rich works best, if all is 'deregulated', the preferred term used by the leaders of the world. All rules and restrictions of an economic nature are regarded as obstacles to free trade and abolished; this goes together with the deprivation of power of the state to determine its own economic affairs. Economics becomes ever more totalitarian. The most important question in life becomes whether what anyone does is profitable. Money is marketed profitably, it does not serve not to satisfy the needs of humans. Why should one invest in social needs if the winners in society can simply make money to pay for their own needs? Margaret Thatcher, a glowing representative of neoliberalism, has put forth a succinct formula, that for the winners is simply wonderful. 'There is no alternative.' If you put the four first letters of this simple sentence together, then one calls this concept 'TINA'. Our bankers also suffer from this illness.

We here today do not accept this. There are alternatives. And I think the opposition against this new economic totalitarianism is growing world-wide. Adversaries of this wrong-headed globalization, growing in number since Seattle, Prague, Davos, and Quebec, have a wonderful slogan, that I find to be in consensus with the Jewish-Christian tradition: 'The world is not for sale.' The world, the air, the water, the victims of the international sex trade, these are not merchandise, to be put on sale. The creations of God are not a commodity.

The basis of peace is justice. 'Kindness and truth have met; righteousness and peace have kissed.' (Psalms 85:11) The goal is the condition, in God the tanks are shattered and aggression has come to an end.

Without social justice, without law, there is no peace. The measure is according to the statement of the prophets regarding the rights of those who have no rights, for instance the widows and orphans, which do not have a male advocate. The lowest class is made the measure of the well-being of all. Those who have the most wealth have the least say, while those who not only have no money, but also no advocates, no connections, who cannot even appeal to the authorities because they have no knowledge of their claim — they are the measure, on which the definition of justice is based. The ones at the bottom rung of the ladder are 'raised', the ones at the top 'made low', so that a 'level road for God' is made. (Isaiah 40:3)

Justice and peace go together hand in hand, in the same way as do armaments and war. Only together with justice can peace in the full sense of the word shalom develop.

Biblically therefore it is wrong to maintain that atom bombs have guaranteed us fifty years of peace, as if during the same time people living in the two-thirds world guaranteed us starvation. A peace based on deterrence and force, terror, misery and threat is anti-Biblical, because it makes armament, not justice, the basis of peace.

Fundamentalism in the Roman Catholic Church

Frances Kissling
Frances Kissling is a feminist and the President of Catholics for a Free Choice.

The rise of religious fundamentalism over the past decades has been a complex political phenomenon. It encompasses a religious ideology in which both family life and political organization are subject to an ultra-conservative belief in male control combined with a rejection of both democracy and women’s rights and a political ideology which demands a state structure in conformity with conservative religious views. While there are elements of the religious fundamentalist analysis of the modern state that are shared by progressives (disgust with government corruption, consumerism and materialism and among third world fundamentalists a rejection of U.S. imperialism), the two worldviews are polar opposites.

The most troubling forms of religious fundamentalism for progressives are Christian fundamentalism which is most active in the United States and in Latin America and Islamic fundamentalism such as that practiced in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Christian fundamentalists have been closely associated with U.S. political conservatives from Ronald Reagan through the current President George Bush. They have espoused economic policies that favor the rich and ignore the needs of the poor. They have exported their religion throughout Latin America and allied themselves with the most undemocratic regimes in the region. Islamic fundamentalists have sought, often through religious political parties, but sometimes through vigilantism and violence, state control over all aspects of political and social life in ways that reject the civil liberties and human rights of all who disagree. This fundamentalist agenda is rejected by justice-seeking people.

But progressive people engaged in the struggle against globalization and for social and economic justice have a much harder time understanding and rejecting the fundamentalism of the Roman Catholic church. U2’s Bono meets with the pope and together they call for the eradication of third world debt; bishops, such as Don Samuel Ruiz in Mexico and Casaldilga in Brazil, are prominent in the struggle for indigenous people’s rights. The Vatican and the bishops are powerful and to the extent they share our goals, we want to keep them on our side. Thus, many progressives tend to ignore the increasing fundamentalist tendencies in the church.  They were always there. From the conversion of Constantine in the fourth century, Catholicism’s trajectory shifted from that of a counter culture movement on the fringes of Judaism to a state religion with all the trappings of a European monarchy.  In the papacy of John Paul II, all the characteristics of fundamentalism thrived. This was of course, the triumphant anti-communist pope, and we all know anti-communism is not to be confused with democracy.

But we cannot ignore Roman Catholic fundamentalism for it is a danger to two critical values of the progressive movement: the lay state and women’s rights, especially sexual and reproductive freedom. Like U.S. Christian and Islamic fundamentalists, the Vatican believes the modern state has failed it. From the UN to Ireland to Mexico laws do not conform to the church’s vision of family and male and female roles; men are no longer in charge. A fragile international consensus is developing. It supports the idea that marriage can fail and that couples should be allowed to divorce and remarry. Men and women should have access to modern contraception so that they can decide on the number ofchildren they want and when they want them. Women who have been raped, and those who have not, should have access to emergency contraceptives that will prevent pregnancy. Women should not die from botched illegal abortions. Adolescents have the right to a sexual life, to contraceptives. They have rights that are separate from those of their parents. People at risk of AIDS should have access to condoms. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people have the right to a family, children and social benefits, even the right to marry.

The Catholic church’s reaction to this shift in social and political acceptance of sexual and reproductive freedom has been fundamentalist. In Kenya, a prominent bishop has burned condoms; in Mexico, the much respected Samuel Ruiz threatened to excommunicate any legislator in Chiapas who voted to retain a law that legalized abortion in that state. Throughout the world, church social service providers are forbidden from educating about or providing condoms to those at risk of AIDS. So extreme is the prohibition on providing condoms for AIDS that when a Catholic doctor asked if he could ethically advise a couple to use condoms when the husband, a hemophiliac, was diagnosed with HIV, he was told no. That couple is called to celibacy, the Vatican said. But, if celibacy would result in divorce, then the couple should have sex to avoid it. However, they should not use a condom. During the war in Bosnia, the pope wrote an open letter to women who have been raped and become pregnant. Do not have an abortion he begged. Rather turn the act of rape into an act of love by making the child flesh of your flesh, he said.

In the European Union, the Vatican lobbied heavily against gay unions and gay marriage. It seeks the right to discriminate against gay employees in church programs that receive EU funding. In Poland, the church supported government measures that would eliminate day care and force women out of the workplace. In Chile, it lobbies against laws that would permit divorce. In the Philippines, it demands that the government not provide any family planning education or services other than abstinence. In the United States, it refuses to provide voluntary sterilization in Catholic hospitals and emergency contraception to women who have been raped.  Is this really much different than the Taliban who refused to allow women to go to school, or Nigerian fundamentalists who wanted to stone a woman who had been raped, because she became pregnant?

Within the clergy, serious violations of women’s and children’s rights are perpetrated. Two successive reports of the sexual exploitation of Roman Catholic nuns by priests in 23 countries were ignored by the Vatican. The reports included substantial documentation of African nuns who were exploited by priests who were afraid of getting AIDS from prostitutes and forced nuns to have sex with them. Sisters who became pregnant were sometimes forced to have abortions. Many who carried the children to term were dismissed from their religious orders and sent home to their villages with no financial support. Of course, nothing happened to the priests who made them pregnant. Nuns contracted AIDS and died.

A year after these cases were reported, the scandal of clergy sexual abuse was revealed in the United States. Extensive research by Catholics for Free Choice identified over 5,000 cases in press reports from 1995 to 2002. The Vatican claimed that the problem was a small one and the church was being singled out unfairly by the media. The only global response has been to transfer priests who abused children from one country to another to avoid prosecution. Just as drug companies send their outdated and ineffectual drugs to the developing world, so the church sends its dysfunctional priests to Mexico, the Philippines and other countries.

Of course, the church has lost the confidence of Catholic people. When it forbade contraception in 1968, many Catholics simply ignored the prohibition and use pills, diaphragms and condoms. In the UN, its anti-family planning efforts are supported, not by Catholic countries, but by conservative Islamic states. But having lost the moral war, the Vatican has turned to the United Nations to influence international public policy on the family, sexuality and reproduction. Beginning at the 1992 Rio Conference on the Environment, the Vatican has used its non-member state permanent observer status to preach against policies that would save lives and respect the human rights of men and women.

The “state” status of the Vatican is unique. No other religion holds this status. The only other state in this category is Switzerland and that is changing. Soon the only Non-member State Permanent Observer will be the Holy See, as the Vatican is called in the UN. Why is a religion that occupies a mere 108 acres of tourist attractions and office buildings in the center of Rome and a population of less than 1,000 people, the vast majority of them men, considered a state in the UN system. First and foremost because it aggressively sought this status. Second, because it has some functions that are similar to state functions—a radio station and post office—and was invited by the UN to participate in specialized UN bodies dealing with these issues.

One of the benefits of non-member state status is the ability to participate in UN conferences such as the conferences of the 1990s—on population, women, human rights and social development. In each of those conferences it has sought to limit the right to health care—and the right to life. For example, at the Cairo conference on population and development, the Holy See claimed that condoms cause AIDS and should not be a part of international AIDS prevention programs. At the women’s conference in Beijing, it refused to accept the statement that women’s rights are human rights, calling instead for language that would state that men and women were equal in dignity.

In Europe, it seeks recognition in the Charter of Rights that the “Christian roots” of Europe be recognized and maintains a mission at the Council of Europe, actively lobbying for both funding of church agencies and conservative social policy. From country to country, it enforces concordats that give it special privileges.

A growing progressive Catholic movement is working to limit the fundamentalist side of the Catholic church and ensure that other voices, especially those of Catholic women are heard in the UN. Through a “See Change” campaign it is asking the Secretary General to review the category of non-member state permanent observer held by the Holy See. It claims that the status is unfair. No other religion is so represented in the UN. Perhaps a body that considers itself infallible is unable to negotiate and compromise on issues it sees as “divine.” The campaign has been endorsed by about 1,000 groups and tens of thousands of individuals.

The church could be an important force for peace and justice. In the modern world this requires more than debt reduction and poverty alleviation. It requires an end to fundamentalism, a respect for pluralism, a tolerance for differences. Until the church shows itself to be committed to these values, it will be fair to call it fundamentalist. It is also important that those who support these values, Catholic or non-Catholic, work to change the church.

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