Saturday, June 22, 2013

Of Wendy Wagner, Barack Obama, and Paula Deen

St Patrick's Church of Irleand (Anglican)
Cathedral, Dublin
I am anxious to get back to the issue of Anglican history but history happens faster than one can chronicle it and there are several items in the past week that I want to address before we go back to what I think will be the most fascinating chapter of Anglican history—the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Communion.  As we have seen the Church of England does not begin with Henry VIII but is an ancient institution going back to the Roman occupation of Britain, perhaps as early as the end of the first century in the common era.  And we have seen that the term “Anglican Church”—Ecclesia Anglicana in Latin—was used for at least three centuries before  Henry VIII ascended the throne.  But I digress.  I want to bring up the fabled bugaboo of the wing-nuts, the right wing wing nuts that is, President Obama.  The crazies are after him for “decrying” Catholic Schools in Ireland and calling for them to be abolished.  Of course, this has nothing to do with the facts, but then the crazies don’t need facts when they have opinions.  Just ask Wendy Wagner of Leesburg Virginia who says that she doesn’t hesitate to tell people how they need to think.  Ah yes—“don’t think for yourself—we’ll do your thinking for you.”  Whether is a dyspeptic matron from Loudon County or a corpulent Cardinal from Rome, no thank you.  God gave me a brain and I will think for myself.  It is I who will stand before the Judge of the Universe some day and be quizzed on my record; it is I who must make the decisions since it will be I who bear the responsibility.  But I digress.
When the President spoke in Belfast last Sunday, June 17th, he said:

“There are still wounds [in Northern Ireland] that haven’t healed, and communities where tensions and mistrust hangs in the air.” … “If towns remain divided – if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs – if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division. It discourages cooperation.”

Northern Ireland has come a long way since President Clinton mediated the “Good Friday Peace Accords” of 1998.  Sectarian violence has receded and Catholics have been given a more proportionate share in the economy as well as government and social services.  But prejudice, anger, and hatred still simmer below the surface.  And the separate schools do not help but provide reinforcement for the stereotypes and intolerance that still run through Northern Ireland society. 

You will notice that the President challenged not Catholic Schools but sectarian schools—Catholic or Protestant—in Northern Ireland.  Don’t compare the situation in Ireland—North or South—to the American experience of Catholic Education.  The Republic of Ireland, which does not include the six counties of “Northern Ireland,” has an excellent system of public schools.  It does not have “parish schools” as we have had in the United States and what Catholic Schools there are, are what we would call “private schools”—rather upper crust and select—and inclusive of students from a variety of religious backgrounds.  Unlike American public schools, there is room for religion in the public school curriculum.  The vast majority of citizens in the Republic are Catholic.  Until the recent scandals the vast majority were devout Catholics.  But the Catholic Priest, Church of Ireland (Anglican) Minister, Methodist and Presbyterian Parson all have access to the school where their congregants study to teach religion to their respective students.  Such public schools put Catholic and Protestant youth on the same teams rather than pitting them against one another.  Friendships are formed across denominational lines.   And the political, social, and economic tensions that continue to divide the Catholic and Protectant communities in the North have long vanished in the South. 
It is a bit of a canard to go after President Obama for “attacking” Catholic Education when he did nothing of the kind.  But then the voices raised against him are the same voices that decry his administration’s lead on health care , immigration reform,  same-sex marriage,  and other contemporary issues. And the dissatisfaction with these policies more often than not is, like this flap over Northern Ireland, based on faulty facts and distorted simplifications.  It becomes obvious over a period of time that the problem is not the issues, but the man.  And what is there about the man that excites such anger?  Hmmm.  The answer is too obvious to name, is it not, Paula Deen?

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