Fostering Care


I read with great interest Gregory Popcak’s “Misplacing Children” (June/July). As the father of four adopted children and as a leader of an adoption ministry at our local evangelical church, adoption occupies a central place in the life of our family.

I, too, am saddened by the decision of Massachusetts to force the hand of Catholic Charities of Boston regarding its adoption placement practices. As a general matter, I do not believe it is appropriate for the government to force a child-placement agency to provide adoption services to gay and lesbian couples when to do so would violate its longstanding moral and religious beliefs. And given the significant number of religious organizations that provide child-placement services in the United States, and the fact that a great many of these organizations hold similar views with respect to the appropriateness of adoptions by gay and lesbian couples, I fear that, if the laws of Massachusetts were to be taken up by a large number of other states, potentially dozens, if not hundreds, of child-placement agencies could be negatively affected.

Although I generally agree with Popcak, I think that he commits two serious errors. First, and most important, contrary to Popcak’s supposed facts, there is a crisis in America concerning children who are waiting for permanent, loving homes and will in all likelihood never find them. According to recent statistics, an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 children (out of more than 500,000 children in the U.S. foster-care system) “age out” of foster care each year. Many of these children age out because they are considered “hard to place” with an adoptive family due to their age, race, and challenges they present (often as a result of past abuse, rejection, or neglect). Because these children never had the chance to experience the love and permanency of a healthy family during their most formative years, the results for them are all too often very bleak. The statistics regarding the extreme rates of homelessness, unemployment, and crime related to this population are truly heartbreaking.

With this in mind, it is difficult to understand how Popcak arrives at his conclusion that there are more than enough potential adoptive families to go around. Possibly he mistakenly included many adoption applications that are filed for international adoptions (nearly 23,000 in the United States in 2005) in the statistics used to arrive at his conclusion. But regardless, the unfortunate reality is that there are not enough potential adoptive homes to go around”not for the millions of orphans around the world and not for many orphans and at-risk children right here in America. In fact, there are currently more than 120,000 children in the U.S. foster-care system who are awaiting adoption, and only about 20 percent of those children are in pre-adoptive homes. Thus, it is not an “unlikely event,” but rather the very real fact, that there are not currently enough married, heterosexual couples waiting to adopt a great many of these children, and in particular the “hard to place” children.

Second, Popcak ends his article by pointing to the Church’s insistence “that all children, especially adoptive children, deserve a mother and a father.” I believe I understand well the point he is attempting to make: A mother and a father are God’s ideal design. But we live in a broken and imperfect world, and I am afraid that this statement backhands many godly single men and women who have responded to God’s call to adopt a child, even though God has not yet brought into their life a marriage partner (i.e., in the context of a Christian, heterosexual marriage).

Thus, it appears here that, as I see all too frequently, Popcak’s conclusion conflates, albeit possibly unintentionally, the issue of singles adopting with the issue of gays and lesbians seeking to adopt. I know from many involved in our adoption ministry how hurtful and difficult that association is for them. Thus, I hope and pray that, even as we resist certain trends in adoption, we do not become overbroad in our indictments.

Michael Monroe
Coppell, Texas

Even gay activists should affirm that, other factors being equal, orphans should be placed with parents who share their sexual orientation. That way, the children will have supportive role models for their own sexuality. That is, supporters of gay adoption should agree with the Church’s 2003 document (quoted in “Misplacing Children”) that “the absence of sexual complementarity in [homosexual] unions creates obstacles” in the development of heterosexual children”though they would surely add that a similar obstacle is placed in the way of gay children placed with non-gay parents.

We cannot at present determine the future sexual orientation of young children in order to know with certainty how best to place them. Furthermore, we all agree that at least 90 percent will turn out to be heterosexual (since the maximum claim activists have put forward is that 10 percent of the population is homosexual). We thus know that in every case where a child is placed with a homosexual couple, there is at least a 90 percent chance that the placement is wrong in terms of sexual role-modeling, while in every case where a child is placed with a heterosexual couple, there is at least a 90 percent chance that it is right. Those who put the interests of the child first, even in Massachusetts, ought to agree on a strong prima facie preference for heterosexual over homosexual adoption.

Richard Stith
Valparaiso School of Law
Valparaiso, Indiana


Gregory K. Popcak replies:


I would like to thank Richard Stith and Michael Monroe for their responses. I would especially like to thank Mr. Monroe for his charitable criticism and for his work with children and families.

Like Monroe, I also have a personal stake in this question, both as an adoptive father and as someone who has been involved in foster care and adoption since childhood. Further, in my professional life as a family counselor with a specialty in attachment issues, I regularly consult with parents about post-adoptive adjustment, so I am aware of the struggles faced by adoptive parents and children.

I agree there are more children waiting for homes than there are homes available. As Monroe notes, this is especially true of older children and children with disabilities. My point was to note that there is less disparity between the numbers of waiting children and the numbers of waiting parents than is popularly believed.

I also agree that, as a practical matter, almost any home is better than an institution for raising children. But unlike Monroe, I do believe”and social-science data agree”that all children do deserve a mother and a father, not just children who live in an ideal world. It is wrong to place single parents and non-married parents (whether straight or gay) on par with stable, heterosexual, married adoptive parents. Currently, antidiscrimination policies in the United States mean that everyone, regardless of marital status, waits in the same line. This is not in the best interest of waiting children. Because of the basic right of every child to have both a mother and a father, single parents and others should be considered”if at all”only if other, married adoptive parents are not available.

According to the 2005 report Listening to Parents: Overcoming the Barriers to the Adoption of Children from Foster Care , produced by the liberal Evan Donaldson Adoption Institute, the answer to the adoption crisis is not to recruit more parents. It is to fix the system. According to their study, prospective parents are discouraged by their contact with child-welfare agencies. They are not given the information and support they need to stick with their desire to adopt, and byzantine paperwork processes and bureaucratic hurdles force prospective parents out of the system. Every year, 240,000 parents inquire about adoption”more than enough to meet the need. But only a small fraction follow through, and the reason is that they are not given adequate information and support.

Instead of merely slapping a Band-Aid on the myriad problems in the U.S. adoption system by opening up adoption to any adult regardless of marital status, we must focus our energy on four things. First, we must do more to make adoption attractive and possible for married couples through public education, even better tax incentives, and a streamlined adoption process. Second, adoption agencies must stop sacrificing children to politically correct concerns about placing children of color with Caucasian parents. It is ridiculous that adoption agencies would, with one hand, bar the door to white parents who are willing to adopt children of color, and on the other hand advocate for the rights of homosexual partners to adopt. Third, the foster system must be empowered to be more aggressive in identifying children who are appropriate for adoption earlier. Fourth, more must be done to protect the rights of adoptive parents against birth parents who change their minds after the fact. While it does not happen nearly as often as people imagine, U.S. adoption suffers from the not unfounded perception that adoptive parents have second-rate legal status.

Monroe notes the prevalence of international adoption. As one who is familiar with both domestic and international adoption, I can tell you the two reasons international adoptive parents note for pursuing this more expensive and more time-consuming option: They were discouraged by U.S. adoption agencies from adopting at all, much more so from adopting children of a different race than themselves, and they are terrified that they would have to give their baby back to birth parents who had a change of heart. Caucasian parents pursuing international adoption are only too willing to adopt African, Asian, and Hispanic children ”even when these children have special needs ”when they are not discouraged from doing so and when they know their rights will be protected by international adoption laws, which are more favorable to adoptive parents than U.S. adoption laws.

There are many problems with the adoption system in the United States. These problems prevent waiting children from finding stable, loving homes. Instead of inventing new crises that further sap the scarce resources of an already strained foster-care and adoption system, our energy should be directed toward solving those problems and empowering child-welfare agencies to do the job they were created to do. Children deserve better.

Religious Disagreements


Paul Johnson’s essay “The Almost-Chosen People” (June/July) reminds us of the central role played by religion in American history. However, in describing the relationship of religious pluralism to religious freedom in the development of the American republic, Johnson conflates religiosity with religious pluralism and thereby presents an incomplete tale. Missing is any serious mention of the religious persecution that marked not just the Thirteen Colonies but also the United States.

For instance, Johnson overstates the case about the frontier circumstances of the American colonies when he states that “dissenters merely moved on.” As evidence, he cites Roger Williams’ founding of Providence, Rhode Island, as if this incident marked a high point in religious liberty. Williams did not simply “move on,” as if one day he decided to found his own colony and gathered his things and calmly left Puritan Massachusetts. Rather, he was threatened with deportation, dodged arrest, and fled in fear of his life. Only then did he found “the first commonwealth in modern history to make religious freedom . . . the principle of its existence.”

More glaring is Johnson’s assertion that in the nineteenth century “Catholics were able to accept the public school system . . . because the concept of libertarian plurality in religion coincided exactly with their interests.” In the 1840s, Bible reading and prayer were mandated in most of America’s public schools. When Catholics sought the liberty to read the Douay-Rheims Bible, rather than the King James, and to pray their version of the Lord’s Prayer, rather than the Protestant one, they were accused by influential Protestant politicians and preachers of seeking to ban the Bible. Catholics responded by founding their own school system as an alternative to the public one they viewed as Protestant, and in New York they even sought public tax money to fund them. To say that American public schools “never became . . . a source of conflict” is inaccurate and ignores the violence of the 1830s and 1840s rooted in the school controversies, such as a mob attack in 1834 on the Ursuline convent school in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and the pair of deadly riots ten years later in which two Catholic churches and an Irish neighborhood were put to the torch in Philadelphia. To argue that religious pluralism inexorably led to the dilution of the schools’ “generalized Protestantism” avoids the sad truth of how that dilution came about. In the name of religious liberty, Catholics and Jews unhappily resorted to participating in the movement to secularize our nation’s public schools.

Religion was indeed “central and organic” to the development of the U.S. government, as Johnson says. But so, too, was conflict”sometimes violent conflict”in the name of religious liberty and sectarianism. This discord should not be forgotten even when we rightly praise America’s current status as “the citadel of voluntary religion.”

John C. Pinheiro
Aquinas College
Grand Rapids, Michigan

Paul Johnson persuasively defends a proposition with which no secularist would argue: namely, that America is a religious society. Johnson fails, however, to address what secularists defend: that American government, as distinct from the society which gave birth to it and which it continues to serve, should be and was intended to be secular.

He does this by (1) all but ignoring the Constitution, which does not mention religion or God, except to ensure free exercise and disestablishment; and (2) overemphasizing the influence of the Great Awakening on the framers of American government and underemphasizing the influence of the Enlightenment.

While it is true the Declaration of Independence cites a “Creator” as endowing men with unalienable rights, the Constitution”the legal document that determines our government”does no such thing. The Constitution avoids any reference to a higher power, referencing only “We the People of the United States.” Johnson ignores any discussion of the First Amendment. The establishment clause is the touchstone of the secularist position. Any argument against the secularist position which does not directly address the establishment clause is at best incomplete.

While Johnson is correct that American society was more influenced by Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield than by John Locke and Moses Mendelssohn, the framers were not. I would be deeply impressed if Johnson could demonstrate that Madison, as principal author of the Constitution, was influenced by Edwards in any but the most opaque sense, and even more impressed if he could demonstrate that Madison was not deeply influenced by Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration. The framers, as men of wealth and privilege, were strongly influenced by the European Enlightenment. It would be as implausible to deny this as it would be to deny that America is a religious society.

Johnson is at his best as a historian when he examines the lives of presidents and other politicians who were both deeply religious and used religious rhetoric in their official capacities. But even here his work serves only to illustrate that politicians do not always take the establishment clause as seriously as they should. I agree with Johnson that “the strength of religion in America sustains and nurtures democracy.” But religion does this, as Tocqueville pointed out, not as an authority in alignment with the government but as an authority that challenges the government. Religion is a robust and independent source of moral and intellectual life for millions of Americans precisely because it is divorced from government”precisely because our government is secular.

Matthew A. Smith
Castle Rock, Colorado

Immigration Education


Mary Ann Glendon’s “Principled Immigration” (June/July) deserves much praise for pointing out the obvious: Immigration is needed in light of the dearth of children and workers; it has a negative impact on the wages of unskilled laborers; and, when it is not legal, undermines respect for the rule of law. Regrettably, she tells less than half the story.

I am a legal immigrant who came penniless to this country and who sent my children to the public schools. In the past fifteen years, I have seen my home community of Framingham, Massachusetts, deteriorate as a result of the failure of the political process and the rush of illegal immigrants. As an academic economist, I believe that I can explain the forces that are driving our country into disaster.

The dearth of children is far more than a symptom of a “deeper crisis in beliefs and attitudes,” as she claims. Children have always substituted for income insurance against an uncertain future. When the government guarantees income in old age, a major reason for procreation disappears”everyone can depend on “the children of others” for the income transfers they will get in their retirement years. The problem then becomes that everyone has fewer children, generating fewer workers.

In addition, immigration “solves” two problems that require other solutions. First, as our educational system at the lower grade levels deteriorates, there is the need to bring in highly trained students from abroad to populate our universities’ science and engineering programs and to staff the high-skilled jobs that allow us to compete in the global economy. There are two drawbacks to this solution: We are draining the less-developed countries of their most talented students and workers, and we fail to address our educational problems, allowing the educational bureaucracy to institute low standards and mediocrity in our public schools.

Second, illegal immigration helps to destroy accountability in the political process. When state and local politicians engage in perverse economic and social policies, citizens vote with their feet. This behavior used to force politicians to reassess their policies. But now politicians can counteract this by drawing into their communities illegal immigrants who depend for their well-being upon the politicians. It will not matter if the bad policies lead to lower income, for that income will still be higher than that found in the home countries of the illegal immigrants. To make matters worse, bad policies and increased illegal immigration serve to justify additional taxation.

I suspect that Glendon, like many readers of your journal, is protected from the consequences that I have described: They earn substantial salaries from nonprofit organizations, live in protected neighborhoods, and are too old to have children in the public schools (if they ever sent their children to public schools!). No wonder they can demand rights for so-called undocumented workers and write about principled immigration, as these things have very little impact upon their lives.

Nicolas Sanchez
College of the Holy Cross
Worchester, Massachusetts

I write from the border and have a family history here beginning in 1886, when my Italian great-grandparents purchased a ranch near Naco, Arizona. Since that beginning, my family has lived, worked, and married cross-border for six generations. At present, all my grandchildren are half Hispanic and all my children and many nieces and nephews are bilingual and bicultural, and many live right on the border. Many in the family are Mexican nationals or are second generation. I think it is fair to say that we know the border in our bones.

First, it would seem that Mary Ann Glendon buys into the common assumption of the need for immigrants as replacement workers, citing as a basis the current 2.08 babies per woman in America. But that figure, as she herself states, is almost the replacement rate of 2.1 babies per woman. In addition, there is a baby boom even among college-educated nonimmigrants. Standing on statistics alone, our situation does not seem dire, especially if the politicians will quit raiding the Social Security system. In addition, allowing Mexican immigrants to come in will not in my experience change that demographic. Rather, the Mexican immigrants will begin very quickly to contracept and then to abort at the same or higher rate as American women. So it seems the net result will be more of the same: a need for more and more immigrants to take care of a graying population, only now composed of more and more people from Mexico, in turn necessitating more and more low-paid immigrant workers, to the destruction of our culture.

Glendon compares the current opposition to illegal immigration with the objections to the immigrants of the past. I must disagree with her. The situations are much different. I have lived long enough to have experienced the immigrants of the early twentieth century”Irish, Italian, and Mexican”with those of this era. The attitude of current Mexican immigrants is quite different from the immigrants of a few years back. One example of this is the rampant idea, promulgated by Mexican talk shows and activists both north and south of the border, that says the Southwest was stolen from Mexico and they have a right, even a duty, to take it back. We never heard that years ago, but we certainly do now, and it is promoting a hatred of America that just did not exist until recently. The sense of entitlement to social services and education is a phenomenon commented on by everyone I know in those fields. Many of those commenting are Mexican, and they do so with a sense of shame for their fellow Hispanics who are coming illegally.

In 2004, the Holy Father said “building conditions of peace means being committed to safeguarding, first of all, the right not to emigrate” (italics in original). He says that more equitable trade and supportive international cooperation will allow countries to guarantee their own people their basic human rights. Fixing the economies of third-world countries should indeed be our first priority.

Promoting more immigration and amnesty is not truly promoting the common good. It is helping the greedy corporate interests in America to gut the Mexican family and destroy its beautiful culture. At the same time, it helps to impoverish further the American lower and middle class, and all of this with the help of the bishops, church bureaucrats, and pandering politicians.

Our first line of attack to solve both illegal immigration and excessive legal immigration must focus on true justice and peace, helping third-world countries come into their own, to preserve their families and their culture, and to become equal trading partners in the world economy.

Ann Hardesty Howard
Tucson, Arizona

I am an admirer of Mary Ann Glendon. She has contributed some fine writing to FIRST THINGS over the years. In “Principled Immigration,” however, Glendon has failed to measure up to her usual high standards.

She apparently doesn’t consider the millions of people who don’t share her values, or who don’t share the values that are presently expressed in our social-welfare system. She writes as if these values are eternal laws that cannot be either questioned or amended by legislation.

Precisely what incentive will our newly imported immigrants, numbering in the tens of millions, have to mortgage their best years supporting elderly boomers in their retirement years through bloated Medicare and Social Security programs? Glendon offers no clue. She assumes they will buy into our social contract, a social contract to which they have not been a party. This assumption probably derives from Glendon’s belief that we have assembled the best of all possible worlds, and third-world immigrants, realizing this, won’t take any action to disassemble it.

This is the typical American liberal notion that we are invulnerable and can’t possibly lose it all, no matter who or how many we invite willy-nilly into citizenship.

I think Glendon should consider her assumption of invulnerability, which borders on hubris, or what a Christian calls “tempting God.”

Mark Dykstra
Sarasota, Florida

Mary Ann Glendon replies:


I must say I was surprised at the positions attributed to me by the three readers who wrote to comment on my immigration article. All three criticize my article for what they seem to think is my acceptance of our dysfunctional social-welfare system in its present state. But none of them engages my point that, whatever one thinks of the social-welfare system, the country is heading for a financial crisis as the active labor force declines in proportion to the size of the dependent population. No serious economist disagrees with that proposition. The question is what do we do about it, and what role does immigration play.

Ms. Howard takes me to task for likening the present situation to past immigrations, but in fact I devoted much of my article to distinguishing them, and to explaining why our current situation poses more-difficult problems. I agree with Howard’s emphasis on the importance of strengthening the economies of countries of out-migration; that is why I cited with approval the U.S. and Mexican bishops who placed that point first on their list of principles. Buried in Dr. S?nchez’s fulminations is a good point about the free-rider problem, but his reasoning would emerge more clearly if not mired in ressentiment.

From the letters it might appear that I had given little consideration in my article to the legitimate concerns that many Americans have about large-scale immigration. That, as I hope FIRST THINGS readers will recall, is not the case. The point of the article is that, in a debate presently dominated by immigration alarmists and pro-immigration advocates, we need full and better-informed public discussion of the human and economic costs and benefits of migration with a view toward devising effective strategies to minimize the former and maximize the latter.

The Real Islam


Cardinal Pell’s article (“Islam and Us,” June/July) correctly outlines some of the serious difficulties facing anyone who wishes to confront the history of relations between Muslims and Christians. It is true that there are many, both Christians and Muslims, who emphasize the positive in the hope that precedents can be found on which to build a future together. Yet, if we are to be successful, this worthy goal cannot overlook the real roots of religious intolerance in Islam. It is to the cardinal’s credit that he insists these issues be discussed frankly.

Moreover, he understands that any such discussion must confront the traditional notion that the proof of the truth of Islam can be found both in its early phenomenal military expansion and in the claimed perfection of the Qur’an. The first of these has historically been used by Muslims to justify the creation and control of Islamic territory, the Dar al-Islam, defined and regulated by sharia. Traditionalists have argued that the power and success of the great Islamic empires could have been accomplished only through the help of God. As a consequence, few Muslims today see any real contradiction between military activities and the correct interpretation of the Qur’an. The questions raised within the Muslim community about military action are more concerned with the “innocence” of the victims of war than with any justification of violence.

I would argue that recognition of this fact is of special importance to those informed by Christian values who attempt to understand Islam. The Western tendency of late has been to associate authentic religious expression with, among other things, peace and tolerance. The vast majority of Muslims, on the contrary, identify it solely with submission (islam) to the commands of the Qur’an. Gaining territorial control through military means in order to promote conversion to Islam has been the primary way it has spread from its inception and is widely accepted today as legitimate.

The second facet of the traditional proof for Islam has been the immutability and perfection of the Qur’an, which is believed to have been received through the Angel Gabriel without human influence. The result is that it can and must be read literally by believers. Even among the most liberal of Muslims, this is the first tenet of belief. As a consequence, there has been almost no interest within the Muslim community in the historical-critical questions that could be raised about the Qur’an and early traditions surrounding Muhammad. Of particular concern to non-Muslims are the verses authorizing intolerance and inequality toward nonbelievers.

The reference to the work of the pseudonymous Christoph Luxenberg is a good example of the problem. Luxenberg’s work is a thinly veiled attempt to argue that the entire foundation of Islam is a hoax. Although he accurately points to the relationship between pre-Islamic Arabic and Syriac, he speculates wildly about the implications of this, all the while rejecting any other evidence, including the numerous traditions that contradict his hypothesis. To my knowledge, no serious scholar has accepted any of his theory. It is therefore of extremely doubtful value for the scholarly investigation into the history of Muslim-Christian relations. Indeed, raising it is akin, within a Christian context, to encouraging historical-criticism of the Bible by calling upon the irresponsible musings of the Jesus Seminar.

There are, to be sure, many difficulties to overcome before Muslims and Christians can truly live peacefully together. Nevertheless, the Church must act in the hope that this search can be done with honesty, integrity, and respect on both sides.

Sandra Toenies Keating
Providence College
Providence, Rhode Island

I read the article by George Cardinal Pell entitled “Islam and Us” with much dismay. Cardinal Pell may be a churchman and primate, but he is clearly no great student of Islam or the history of Muslim societies. His reading of the Qur’an is at best naive.

Any accurate reading of the Qur’an takes place within the Muslim community, whose understandings and interpretations shape the way it is received by the reader. So it is precisely the nature of that community today, and its interpretations, that is relevant”not Cardinal Pell’s self-serving selection of commentators. His reading of history is likewise selective and thus skewed, although in the end it amounts to mere polemic, since he cites no sources. In any case, he commits the sin of judging a religion by selective instances of the behavior of its adherents. If we go down that road, his own religion, then, is one of the most frightening in human history, for it has not only served up portions of violence and oppression equal to any offered by Islam, but has done so from a position of considerably more power than the Muslim community ever held.

His concern for freedom of expression in Islam is hypocritical, coming as it does from the leader of a church that, in living memory, has excommunicated those who have challenged its dogma and punishes those who defy its ban on all public discussion on issues of women’s ordination and a married priesthood.

Robert Hunt
Perkins School of Theology
Southern Methodist University

Cardinal Pell’s article might have been more accurately entitled “Islam or Us.” Against naifs who thought that the Islamic world was just a misunderstood pacifist colony, Pell proves that light on dialogue and heavy on sword strokes is the original Islamic way. Here he is at his strongest and most incisive: If the Prophet himself was so apt to war, then why should we expect his followers to be peaceniks?

And yet His Eminence generously hopes that Muslims will choose peace. Here I fail to follow. He has just shown that peaceful suras in the Qur’an definitively gave way to warmongering verses as soon as Muhammad could field an army. Islam in its final form is thus innately hostile to the infidel (as history has borne out), and so peace with Muslims can only be had if they betray or truncate their own revelation.

This means that we “infidels” could never hope for peace with orthodox Muslims but only with their heretics and apostates. The attempt to make Islam “moderate” will really be the attempt to pit Muslims against their own tradition in order to keep them sedate. This time, we won’t send them Richard the Lionheart on a warhorse but the Islamic equivalents of Hans K?ng in a Trojan horse.

Apart from being a vulgar expedient, might this not also backfire? In turning Muslims against jihad and sharia and toward peace and democracy, we turn them against their own religion. If we do this through making them Christian, it is a work of evangelization. If not, it is one of secularization. The former is praiseworthy, but since the latter would make Muslims peaceful only by rendering them godless, it is depraved. Who wants to turn the Middle East into another Holland? But I think what we are waiting for is Islam to find another, doubtless very different, St. Francis.

David Elliot
Toronto School of Theology
Toronto, Canada

Just War Not Done Justice


Richard John Neuhaus’ distorted comments (Public Square, August/ September) on my March Christianity Today interview are both inaccurate and confused.

First, without any basis in my comments, he claims that I implied “moral symmetry between Israelis and Palestinians.” He then characterizes my invented position as “deeply confused,” “culpable ignorance or deliberate mendacity.” A little more honesty on his part would be welcome. Absolutely nothing in my comments speak of moral symmetry. To say, as I do, that the killing on both sides should stop; that there should be two fair, just states; and that one thousand nonviolent peacekeepers throughout the West Bank would help move us toward a solution to this terrible problem is not to argue for moral symmetry.

His final comment denouncing theology professors who urge young people to risk death is astonishing in its confusion. Surely every just-war professor does that. It is precisely the task of Christian ethicists, using great care to be sure, to encourage Christians to oppose evil even at the risk of death.

If that is unseemly or immoral, then everything FIRST THINGS does encouraging Christians to engage in just war is wrongheaded. I would have expected a little more logical consistency from FIRST THINGS.

Finally, he totally ignores my basic point”namely, that neither pacifists nor just-war folk have explored adequately the full possibilities of nonviolent intervention to combat violence and promote peace using the techniques of Gandhi and King. Why not engage the heart of my concern?

Ronald J. Sider
Palmer Seminary
Eastern University
St. Davids, Pennsylvania


RJN replies:


Of course, the possibilities of nonviolent intervention should be explored, although, admittedly, I am more skeptical than Ronald Sider about the limits of those possibilities. It is true that “moral symmetry” is my term, not his. But to speak of “the killing on both sides” as though the reasons for the killing are equivalent is to obscure the crucial moral difference between those who would destroy and those who would defend the State of Israel. Further, in just-war doctrine there is the crucial question of “legitimate authority,” which the state has and professors do not have in urging young people to risk death in the service of their goals. The phrase “to oppose evil,” if it means that attacking Israel and defending Israel are the same evil, brings us back to the question of moral symmetry. Thus Sider’s original statement, like his letter, overlooks two critical components in just-war doctrine: just cause and legitimate authority.