Theologian urges U.S. to find security in global justice, not war.

While the United States is embarked on a policy of protecting its economic security with overwhelming military might, American Catholics should know true security can come only from working for justice and peace for all, Father Bryan N. Massingale told a national gathering of Catholic social action leaders.

Father Massingale, a moral theology professor at St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee, sharply contrasted the biblical vision of shalom, or a society made secure by peace with justice, with the official security policy documents of the Bush administration developed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The Bible and government policy, he argued, present “two fundamentally different and competing visions of life and ‘security.’”

He gave the opening keynote speech Feb. 8 for the 2003 Roundtable Symposium, an annual national meeting in Washington of The Roundtable, an association of U.S. Catholic diocesan social action directors. More than 100 diocesan leaders from across the country attended the symposium, whose theme was “The Security We Seek.”

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, keynoter for the Feb. 9 session, struck a chord similar to Father Massingale’s. She suggested that if Americans were to enter deep partnerships to feed and educate the poor in Palestine, Pakistan and other troubled nations they would do much to eliminate the conditions of poverty and despair that offer the breeding ground for hatred and terrorism.

That, she said, would show the people of those regions a different side of America “than the underside of an F-16” fighter jet. Father Massingale opened and closed his talk with the prayer of St. Francis that begins, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” He used the opening line as a refrain punctuating his talk.

He said he finds the prayer “especially haunting these days. I am haunted by its vision and call of faith as I survey a world that is so much at odds with what I believe, with the values I espouse, with the way I seek to live.”

He cited the growing rich-poor gap that contradicts Catholic social teaching, the ongoing poverty of one in six American children, the racial profiling against Muslims and Arabs and those who are perceived as Muslim or Arab, the increasing suspicion of immigrants and the “perilous precipice of war” with Iraq.

The theologian urged participants to read two 2002 official U.S. public policy documents - “The National Strategy for Homeland Security” issued last July and “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America” in September – both available on the Web at

“Among the most striking features of these texts is the underlying tone of pervasive fear,” he said. “Over and over, the documents speak of ‘threats’ and ‘enemies.’ Continually, they underscore and highlight our unprecedented ‘vulnerability.’ ... Repeatedly we are reminded that the enemy is ‘invisible,’ ‘evil,’ ‘smart and resolute.’”

He also highlighted that whenever the term “security” appears in the documents, “it is almost always preceded by the words ‘homeland’ or ‘national,’” and the stated goal of national security is “to protect ‘American interests’ and defend ‘our way of life.’”

American interests, he added, are described in the documents “as a triad of democracy, prosperity and free markets,” but free markets hold pride of place in the triad. He quoted from the September document: “Free markets and free trade are key priorities of our national security strategy.”

In that document, he said, “the United States goes so far as to elevate free trade into a central and defining moral principle.” He quoted from Page 18: “The concept of ‘free trade’ arose as a moral principle even before it became a pillar of economics. If you can make something that others value, you should be able to sell it to them. If others make something you value, you should be able to buy it. This is real freedom, the freedom for a person - or a nation - to make a living.”

Thus,” he commented, “our core American value, the freedom we seek to defend, is the freedom to buy and sell, the freedom to acquire and consume, the freedom - dare I say it? - to shop.”

He added that the “underside” of the free trade, consumerist ethos governing American security policy “is the belief that having a disproportion of goods is appropriate and that using force or violence to get or keep these goods is both necessary and legitimate. ... A consumer society – the American way of life – depends upon violence, or the threat of violence, to maintain itself.”

In the contrasting biblical concept of peace, he said, “Shalom is a vision of social wholeness, a state of well-being for all, where everyone has access to the goods of creation intended to meet the needs of all.”

Father Massingale said U.S. Catholics trying to live out the vision of peace and security expressed in the Bible and Catholic social teaching are also “part of America, part of its ‘interests’ and ‘way of life.’”

We are divided between loyalties to our American ethos and to our Christian identity. ... We also are torn because we, like many of our fellow Americans, are afraid. We, too, witnessed the twin trade towers collapse in a ruinous heap,” he said.

He urged participants, in dealing with war and peace and security issues back in their home dioceses, to acknowledge and discuss those fears. “We achieve nothing by disparaging the fear of others or not owning up to our own,” he said.

But he also reminded them that courage does not mean being fearless: “Rather, courage lies in the determination to do what is right despite being afraid.” He also reminded them that it was because the disciples were afraid that Jesus is found saying to them, “Do not be afraid.”

Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service