It seems that a trainer at a US Defense Department presentation labeled Catholics, as well as evangelical Christians and other groups, as extremists.
Some people are really upset about this as “offensive” and an example of “blatantly anti-religious material.”
According to one report:
The Archdiocese for the Military Services, a Catholic organization that trains and endorses military priests and chaplains, said in a release that it was “astounded that Catholics were listed alongside groups that are, by their very mission and nature, violent and extremist.”
But I wonder if Catholics (and other Christians) might want to reconsider this knee-jerk response. Perhaps we should be “extremists” who are a threat to the status quo of the US.
Catholic social teaching, though not condemning capitalism per se, is clear that “savage capitalism” is wrong (Pope John Paul II). “The needs of the poor have priority over the desires of the rich,” said the same pope.
Catholic leaders, as high as the pope, spoke out against the Iraq war and continually call for nuclear disarmament.
There is no absolute right to private property, but all property has a “social mortgage,” as wrote Pope John Paul II.
The US bishops have recently identified gun control as a pro-life issue. Their pro-life stance against abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty are definitely counter-cultural.
And what could be more subversive and extremist than the example of a pope who washes the feet of young “criminals,” refuses Renaissance pomp, and reaches out to touch and kiss people with disabilities.
And then there is the extremism of some twentieth and twenty-first century Catholics: Dorothy Day, a witness for peace and for the poor in the US; Archbishop Oscar Romero who was martyred for speaking out for the poor in El Salvador; Sister Dorothy Stang who was killed in Brazil for standing with the people in their struggle for land; Franz Jägerstätter, the Austrian peasant who was beheaded for refusing to serve in Hitler’s army; and hundreds of thousands of women and men who have served the poor and marginalized, who have stood up for justice and peace, who have sought to be lights in the darkness of poverty, war, oppression.
I think we should meditate on these words of Martin Luther King, Jr., in his “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail”:
…though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label.
Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”
Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”
Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.”
And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.”
And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.”
And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .”
So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?
In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment.
The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
It would be good, I believe, if there were more creative Catholic extremists. Sadly, I believe, we are all too willing to accept the comfort of the status quo.