Positive Policy #5: The Jewish-Catholic Connection

Looking at the various policy proposals and plans on the Biden campaign’s Vision page, most target specific public-arena issues or the key concerns of particular demographics. Two of the pages, though, are notable for presenting a different element of policy: the beliefs and ethics that motivate Americans to participate in the public sphere.

The agenda for the Jewish ✡️ community feels at once evergreen but also painfully urgent given the news of the past four years. (I am going to lay aside the rhetoric around the State of Israel, as it is a thornier consideration and one that has its own complexities separate from the lives of Jewish Americans.)

Antisemitism has roared into full view, as made clear by the staggering number of hate crimes against Jewish people and synagogues recently. From a policy standpoint, the denigration of the Jewish populace is part and parcel of many right-wing extremist & white supremacist movements bent on domestic terrorism. These prejudices and attacks must be recognized, intercepted, and countered with the force of the government if we are to have anything that can reasonably be called “homeland security” for all Americans. It’s clear the Biden-Harris campaign is well-apprised of this and aspires to take action for the protection of all Americans, not only by making countering violent extremism (CVE) a priority again, but by linking it to gun safety (which I’ve already written about).

More broadly, The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has led to a national discussion of what it means to create and lead positive change. The Hebrew phrase Tikkun olam, or “repair the world” (as cited in the plan document), is particularly apt as it references the responsibility to assist with the welfare of society at large. It is a faith-based call to social justice, and it harmonizes with the Catholic ✝️ vision that Biden himself adheres to.

The Catholic tradition and its inspiration for doing what is right through public service is notable, as leaders from Biden to Pelosi to Ocasio-Cortez have come from a background rooted in the Church; the small-c meaning of catholic (i.e., universal) is fitting given its modern big-tent inclusivity of all flavors of belief. (It also bears mentioning that all of the justices on the Supreme Court since John Paul Stevens retired in 2010 have been raised Catholic or Jewish; both traditions of legal scholarship run deep!)

It’s quite striking how much of the Biden platform simultaneously is progressive and has identifiable congruence to generations of activists working within the Church:

  • Creating a more equitable economy (raising the minimum wage, investing in educational options, reversing the tax code’s tilt toward the ultrawealthy at the expense of public services) under Jesus’s explicit command to care for the poor.
  • Respecting the “dignity of work” (support for collective bargaining, fighting unfair labor practices like non-compete clauses and wage theft, and shoring up social security). One cannot ignore the influence of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement on agitating for labor rights.
  • Expanding health care options — which again, I’ve written about before. Well-being of body and soul are tenets of every faith tradition.
  • A humane immigration policy (again with the déjà vu!), including comprehensive reform of the INA. This is an area in which the Catholic Church as a community has long been at the vanguard, particularly with the sanctuary movement since the 1980s. Compassion for the Dreamers, paths to citizenship for longtime residents, and reinstating temporary protected status for people whose home countries have been ravaged by disaster.
  • Environmental protection and climate action (moving toward clean energy, reducing carbon emissions, enforcing pollution standards, protecting air and water, etc.)
    It’s no coincidence that Pope Francis has been among the world leaders to recognize the dangers of climate inaction for God’s creation; the United States sorely needs to rejoin the community of nations in seeking a cooperative strategy for ensuring the planet has a future.

I am not myself a religious person; I was also raised in the Catholic faith and I recognize much of the good that people working in the Church have done even while I disagree with much of the doctrine. Where too often religion has been used as an excuse for selfishness, division, and oppression, it’s heartening to see where people of faith (and especially interfaith coalitions) can leverage their values toward creating positive change in the world.

previously: PosPol 1 | 2 | 3 | 4