Skip to content

A Terrified Woman and Angry Men — What Would Jesus Do?

This is my first op-ed in nearly two years.  This piece was under consideration by both the Dallas Morning News and the Texas Catholic, but was ultimately not selected for publication.  I felt it was important enough to add to this blog.

Quite a few years ago, bracelets inscribed “WWJD” were all the rage.  The initials stood for “What Would Jesus Do”.  They became tremendously popular, almost to the point of becoming a joke among many.  However,  the #MeToo movement, and especially the political events of the last few weeks, have got me thinking about that all-important question:  What would Jesus do if he was faced with a situation like we saw recently in the Senate confirmation hearings for Justice Kavanaugh, where people were taking sides between a terrified woman and a group of angry men?

We don’t have to guess. We know exactly what Jesus would do.  In the Gospel of John, the apostle tells this story:

At dawn, Jesus appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.  The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery.  They made here stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.  When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.  At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.  Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said.  “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared.  “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Jesus stood between the angry men and the terrified woman, even though she was guilty of adultery.  He stopped them cold.

Contrast this story about Jesus and the adulterous woman with that of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who testified before Congress (and the world) about a life-threatening sexual assault that occurred when she was a girl of fifteen.  Although many people questioned her testimony, numerous attorneys (including myself) found it credible due to its detail, the corroborating evidence naming Judge Kavanaugh as her attacker in her therapist’s notes from 2012, and the horrible personal cost to Dr. Blasey Ford of going public with it.

But here’s what’s interesting:  Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony against Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s in his Supreme Court confirmation hearing unleashed a tidal wave of anger against her from Catholics and other Christians, including many women.  Is this what should happen when a woman takes the incredibly brave step to report a crime that irreparably damaged her life?  What would Jesus do?

Most of Judge Kavanaugh’s supporters argued that he was needed on the Supreme Court because of his pro-life positions. Many of these supporters seemed to assume that God was on Judge Kavanaugh’s side.  To quote Scripture again, however, “God shows no partiality.”  Abraham Lincoln shared a similar sentiment during another time when our nation was deeply divided:  “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

I can’t stop thinking about what Jesus would have done in that confirmation hearing.  Or what he would say about what people have posted on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram about a woman who survived a sexual assault and was courageous enough to tell her story to the world.

In light of recent news about still more abuse that was hidden by the Church, Catholics are supposed to be reevaluating how we treat those who have experienced sexual assault.  From what I can tell, we still have a long way to go.  To me, the first question should always be, “what would Jesus do?”

Michelle Daniel Chadwick is a member of St. Rita Catholic Community, an attorney and a writer living in Dallas, Texas. You can reach her at michelledchadwick@gmail.com

 

 

 

I’m Inviting Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Mr. Spock, and Mary Poppins for Thanksgiving

This is from an op-ed published in November of 2016.  The world, and my life, have changed significantly since that time.

Thanksgiving is coming soon, and I’ll admit I’m a little worried.  Emotions are still running hot over the election, and it might get pretty tense around the table between my older relatives who voted for Trump and the younger generation who voted for Hillary.  I’ve already started canvassing the family to request tolerance and understanding, and I have plans for a giant “No Politics” sign on the front door.  Right now, though, it looks like I’m going to need professional help to get through the day.

As the mom and the person who makes everything except the turkey and the pumpkin pie (trust me, it’s still a lot of food), you would hope that I’d have some sway here.  But even with my legal and mediation training, I doubt whether my peacemaking skills will be enough for the day.  If I could, I’d invite a few extra guests.

First, I’d invite Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.  Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (from the children’s book series by Betty McDonald) is just one of my childhood heroes that I’d invite to Thanksgiving dinner.  Her magical cures are for children, but these days there are plenty of adults exhibiting childish misbehavior, whether online or face-to-face.  Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s cures for Answer-Backers, Fighter-Quarrelers, Bullies, and Interrupters could all come in handy.  I’m not sure I want Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s bossy parrot demonstrating the awfulness of “Answer-Backers” at my table, but I’d happily settle for some Leadership Pills and Interrupting Powder.  Just imagine if family members consistently showed respect for those they disagreed with, and everyone was allowed to finish their thoughts without being interrupted! (I might have to give myself a dose of Interrupting Powder, come to think of it.)

Second, I’d include Mr. Spock, of Star Trek fame.  (Okay, I’ll admit it, I was in love with Mr. Spock when I was in middle school, don’t judge me.)  Aside from his intellectual prowess and dark good looks, I’d want him at my Thanksgiving table for two reasons:  his logic, and his mind-melding skills.  He could tactfully point out whenever anyone was making an illogical argument, and he could also perform his Vulcan mind-meld, allowing him to explain varying points of view to the other members at the table in a dispassionate manner.  Maybe Mr. Spock could find a way to explain both the younger generation’s fears about racism, sexism and xenophobia and the security concerns of the Air Force veteran in language they could all understand.  And no matter what, at least one person at the table would be calm!

Lastly, I’d invite Mary Poppins.  Although The Music Man runs a close second, Mary Poppins has always been our family’s favorite movie.  My husband even alluded to it in his finest hour as “Father of the Bride” last year.  If you recall, at the end of the movie, it was revealed that Mary Poppins’ mission all along had been to reconcile Mr. Banks with his children. Through a series of crazy adventures, she and Bert set out to help Mr. Banks recover the fun in life, so he could be a better father, while also explaining the stresses and pressures of fatherhood to his children, Jane and Michael.  At the end of the movie, the family is reconciled, and Mary Poppins flies away.  It might be a little awkward if our Thanksgiving table floated up to the ceiling, but if it was because everyone was laughing, that would be fine with me.  Maybe Mary Poppins could work her magic in all of our homes, so that everyone had a deeper appreciation for each other.

As my husband said last year in his speech, your children are your most precious gifts.  So are your parents and friends.  I’m hoping we can all remember that and be thankful for each other this Thanksgiving, even without my fantasy guests.  But if things turn out badly, you can look for me down the street at our neighbor’s house. They had a “Neither” sign in their front yard.  Maybe they’ll have an extra seat at the table.

 

Michelle Daniel Chadwick is a writer and an attorney living in Dallas, Texas.  She blogs at michelledanielchadwick.wordpress.com, and you can reach her at michelledchadwick@gmail.com.

 

 

The King of Fallacies

The King of Fallacies

 

A couple of weeks ago, as I was mulling over the results of the first Presidential debate, I was struck again by Donald Trump’s defense of name-calling.  As everyone knows, he routinely tries to raise his own profile by calling other people names, such as “losers,” “dopes,” and “clowns.” At the debate, when Hillary Clinton reminded voters that Trump has called women “pigs, slobs and dogs,” Trump again defended himself, saying that Rosie O’Donnell had been “very vicious” to him and that “I think everybody would agree she deserves it, and nobody feels sorry for her.”

 

I have previously written about name-calling[1] as a basic failure of human decency, so I won’t repeat those arguments here.  But what no one seems to have noticed is that name-calling is also one of the simplest forms of logical fallacy:  the ad hominem attack.  Trump is particularly fond of the abusive ad hominem attack, which claims that a person’s position or argument is invalid because he or she is defective in some way.  By calling his opponents an abusive name, it allows him to put them down without addressing the merits of their position.

 

Trump’s use of ad hominem caused me to wonder what other logical fallacies he might be using, so I pulled out my old Logic textbook from my TCU days.  After a quick review, it was clear that ad hominem is just one of many logical fallacies Trump has used over the years.  Here are just a few more:

 

Tu quoqueTu quoque means, “you’re another.”  This fallacy deflects criticism against yourself by accusing your opponent of being just as bad.  Trump used it in the debate against Clinton when he was asked about his failure to release his tax returns.  Rather than address the question, he responded with a tu quoque attack:  “I’ll release my tax returns – against my lawyer’s wishes – when she releases her 33,000 emails that have been deleted.”

 

Ad populum.  This argument bypasses relevant reasons for one’s positions by making base appeals to popular sentiment, such as fear and prejudice, anger and distrust.  Trump’s comments about Mexicans in his arguments about immigration are a perfect example:  “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us.  They’re bringing drugs.  They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

 

Ad baculum.  This fallacy uses an appeal to the fear of force to cause the audience to accept a conclusion.  Trump has repeatedly used veiled and not-so-veiled threats against his opponents.  He has threatened to “open up the libel laws” and sue news organizations that have published negative articles about him.   He hinted that Second Amendment supporters should shoot Hillary Clinton to prevent her from being elected and appointing Supreme Court justices.  He implied that he would threaten Mexico with nuclear weapons to get them to pay for the wall he wants to build between Mexico and the United States.  In response to a perceived attack on his wife, Melania, Trump threatened to “spill the beans” on Ted Cruz’ wife.  Some might argue that these are simple threats rather than an ad baculum fallacy, but regardless, it’s pretty clear that threats, rather than logic, are a regular part of the Trump toolkit.

 

Sadly, Trump’s fallacies have now become a regular part of our public discourse, and those who follow his example excuse their behavior by proudly wearing the badge of being “politically incorrect.”  But name-calling, appeals to fear and prejudice, threats, and other cheap tactics distract us from the serious issues we face.   As the election approaches, I hope that the rest of us will rise above the temptation to resort to these methods.  As the famous painter John Kane once noted, “the public interest is best served by the free exchange of ideas.”  In today’s atmosphere of mud slinging, illogic, and hot air, that’s virtually impossible.

 

 

[1] http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article83794582.html

How Should Faith Influence Politics?

We live in interesting times.  Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Tim Kaine has been described as a devout Catholic who is personally opposed to both abortion and the death penalty.  In spite of this, his voting record in the Senate got a 100% approval rating from Planned Parenthood, and he has presided over 11 executions as governor of Virginia.   As a frustrated Catholic in search of someone to vote for, Kaine’s record disappoints me.  Some people, however, see him positively.  One of my more liberal friends described his political performance as “a perfect example of the separation of church and state.”

 

My friend’s comment really got me thinking.  The phrase “separation of church and state” originated with Thomas Jefferson, and has been invoked by the Supreme Court, but it does not appear in the Constitution itself. What the Constitution actually says is that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  These two parts of our 1st Amendment freedoms are known as the “establishment clause” and the “free exercise clause.”  In plain language, this means that the government cannot establish any official religion, nor can it prevent its citizens from freely exercising their faith.  What “separation of church and state” means is subject to ongoing debate.

 

For the most part, people of faith have always understood that we can’t expect those who don’t share our beliefs to live by all of our precepts.  But in the United States, much of what we consider right and wrong comes from our Judeo-Christian heritage.  The question becomes, how much should moral values influence law and politics?   Most laws concerning consensual sexual relationships between adults have gone by the wayside, thanks to privacy concerns.  Yet even today, divorce laws and child support laws reflect society’s values about what is fair and right.  So does the American Disabilities Act.

 

In every generation, there are legal and moral issues that provoke profound disagreements among citizens.   For a brave few, there comes a time when a moral issue becomes inescapable. Those who cry out the loudest are often people of faith.  The challenge comes during the time when some people see a serious moral issue and others don’t.  There was a time when segregation and child labor were normal. When a particular group is oppressed, it’s tempting to just go along quietly.  The argument is always some version of “it’s not that bad,” or “they deserve it” or even “everyone is better off this way.”  Another popular argument against those who speak out is, “you’re trying to force your religion on us.”  But where would we be today if Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t think his faith should affect his politics?  King was jailed, reviled and killed for daring to assert that his black children should have the same freedoms and opportunities as white children, because his faith told him it was true.

We have seen the powerful impact of people of faith in my hometown of Dallas in the aftermath of the July 7 police shootings.  Police Chief David Brown’s “bedrock” faith, which “doesn’t compartmentalize his professional and personal life,” gave him the strength and courage to lead a grieving city toward healing and away from violence.  This isn’t a liberal or conservative issue.  People on both sides of the aisle can be motivated by their faith.

 

Of course, I can’t deny that evil has also been done in the name of religion.  But I’m not talking about the violent.  I am inspired by the people who have the courage to live their convictions in public, to keep questioning the status quo and who work to bring an end to injustices in our midst.  Whether it is Dallas Police Chief David Brown talking about societal conditions that lead to violence, or Abby Johnson or David Daleiden speaking about the secret practices of abortion providers, we should listen.  Those voices might just be the canary in the coal mine.

 

 

Listen to Each Other’s Stories

Over 30 years ago, I wrote an academic paper about how the Cherokee Indians’ criminal justice system evolved from a clan-based revenge system, or “blood feud”, to one of trial by jury. In a primitive, clan-based system, justice occurs when anyone of your clan is punished for a crime against someone in my clan. The identity of the perpetrator does not really matter as long as someone from his clan is punished. Today, we can see the horrible consequences of tribalism in places like Rwanda, Afghanistan, and Somalia.

 

The tragic events of last week seem to threaten a return to this kind of “justice”, even here in the United States. As Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck said last Friday, “We have broken into tribes.   All of a sudden it becomes more important who your parents are, what the color of your skin is, than whether you are an American.” I see this attitude in those who trivialize the Black Lives Matter movement and also in those who vilify all police. Hearts harden as each side dehumanizes the other. Name-calling, stereotyping, and labeling are running rampant and have been encouraged and modeled by a major presidential candidate. How do we make it stop?

 

As people harden into their own positions and perspective, it becomes more and more difficult to break through conflict into empathy and understanding. But there is one method that has a power all its own: the power of a story.

 

In the Bible, the book of Samuel tells the story of King David, a man with hundreds of wives and concubines, who murdered one of his soldiers in order to cover up an affair with the soldier’s wife. The prophet Nathan did not confront David directly, but instead told a story about a man with hundreds of sheep who stole and slaughtered a poor family’s solitary lamb. The story enraged King David, until Nathan said to him, “You are the man!” David’s eyes were opened, and suddenly he repented and understood the perspective of the man he had murdered.

 

Another story that changed hearts is Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1852. The novel’s compelling portrayal of the human cost of slavery finally awoke the nation’s conscience in a way that speeches and rallies had failed to do. Regardless of the book’s flaws, its message of compassion broke through hardened hearts and created the motivation the country needed to end the scourge of slavery.

 

As I have struggled to process the horrible events here in Dallas and across the country, I have been angered by the evil, foolishness, and recklessness that have led to loss of life. Even more frightening to me, though, is the hardening of our hearts and the descent into tribalism. It can only lead to more violence. I beg of you, listen to the stories of those who aren’t your tribe. Imagine what it’s like to be the parent of a black teenager like Trayvon Martin, who was shot while returning from a trip to 7-Eleven. Imagine what it’s like to be a police officer answering a domestic violence call where an armed man is threatening a woman and her children. Watch movies that show other people’s perspective, like Spike Lee’s award-winning Do the Right Thing. We have known for some time that reading literary fiction and watching movies can help people increase their empathy, so do it. After what has happened in this July of 2016, we should be shaken. This is an opportunity to break out of our tribalism, soften our hardened hearts, and try to see another’s perspective. An American Jewish Army Psychiatrist, Capt. Gilbert, who interviewed Nazi war criminals, said it best: “Evil is a lack of empathy, a total incapacity to feel with their fellow man.” In these evil times, let us listen to each other’s stories, so that we might find a way to feel for one another.

A version of this appears in the July 13, 2016 Dallas Morning News.

A Mom’s Age-Old Advice

Last month I had the joyful experience of seeing my second daughter graduate from college, with a job offer in hand. My oldest is a married, employed college graduate and my youngest just finished his freshman year of college, so I’m pretty much finished with “raising children.” Imagine my delight when one of them told me recently that I’m pretty good at this parenting thing. (Apparently they have forgotten or at least forgiven a few of my earlier disastrous efforts). Immediately, I started fantasizing about how different the world might be if I had been given the opportunity to parent some other people (a certain presidential candidate comes to mind.) Just imagine if I could go back in time and share a few of my life principles:

 

  • Don’t call people names. This is basic. I don’t care if they “deserve” it.   Our society seems to have reached a new low where name-calling is acceptable in all sorts of venues, from online posts and comments to television and radio. Set an example for others by showing everyone respect.
  • Don’t use any language that contributes to the ugliness in the world. I realize that cursing is utterly commonplace these days, but if you think about what most curse words mean, they are either scatological, racist, or misogynistic, and are clearly intended to hurt and insult. I’m sure many people would call me old-fashioned and naïve, but I believe language matters. (Also, don’t judge me on this, I came by it naturally. My mother was once offended when a nurse used the word “poop” in her presence.)
  • Don’t make fun of people because of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, weight, looks, or even their clothes or their hair. You can disagree with people’s choices and behavior, but mocking and disrespect are unkind and wrong, especially if it’s about something a person can’t change.
  • Have a little humility. Be willing to listen to other people’s point of view –most issues are more complicated than you realize. Before reacting, make sure you have all the facts. For example, if you are pro-choice, do you know how many women are pressured into having abortions, and exactly how abortion procedures are performed? If you don’t like transgender people, do you know anything about gender dysphoria? Do you know the rates of murder and suicide among transgender people? Be willing to learn something new. We all have to live together, and a little understanding can go a long way.

 

These are just a few of my most basic beliefs and values. As a Catholic Christian, I believe that every human being is created in the Imago Dei (the image of God) and therefore has inherent value. This means everyone. It doesn’t matter if it’s the multi-pierced, tattooed kid who waits on you at Starbucks, the liberal atheist co-worker, the cranky conservative neighbor, the disabled, the prisoner, the elderly nursing home patient, or the unborn. Every human being is worthy of being treated with dignity and respect, including those we disagree with. Of course, our family, like everyone else’s, doesn’t always live up to these principles, but I’m not going to quit trying. We can make the world a better place if we do.

 

A version of this piece appeared in the Miami Herald on June 14, 2016.

Tips for Pro-Life Men: Actions Speak Louder than Words

In case you haven’t heard, last week another man who claims to be pro-life made an incredibly insensitive and stupid comment. Although Donald Trump has since reversed his position, he indicated that women who obtain abortions should probably go to jail. This ridiculous statement is right up there with former Missouri Senator Todd Akin’s claim that victims of “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant.

 

Unfortunately, men like Donald Trump and Todd Akin help perpetuate one of the abortion debate’s greatest myths: that pro-life supporters are just a bunch of old white men who want to control women’s bodies and keep them down. But if you take a close look at the leadership of the pro-life community, you’ll find a large number of extraordinary women. Let’s start with Dr. Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King is the Director for African-American Outreach for two pro-life organizations, Priests for Life and Gospel of Life Ministries. Another prominent pro-life leader is Abby Johnson, a former award-winning Clinic Director for Planned Parenthood. (Other prominent pro-life women leaders include Dr. Peggy Hartshorn, Chairman of Heartbeat International, Kristan Hawkins, President of Students for Life, Marjorie Dannenfelser, President of the Susan B. Anthony List, and Serrin Foster, President of Feminists for Life, to name just a few.) Dr. King and Abby Johnson both acknowledge and regret their own past abortions — they are speaking from experience. So my first tip for pro-life men is, whenever possible, let women take the lead when talking to other women about pro-life issues. Women are uniquely positioned to understand what other women with crisis pregnancies are going through.

 

My second tip for pro-life men is, offer support, rather than criticism, for women facing crisis pregnancies. Criticizing women who are already under stress with an unexpected pregnancy comes across as arrogant and insensitive. The most dedicated people in the pro-life movement have incredible compassion for women experiencing unexpected pregnancies, and only seek to help them. Up to three-fourths of women who seek abortions do so because they lack the financial means to support a baby, or because they believe having the baby will disrupt their education or career. Crisis pregnancy centers such as the White Rose, the Pregnancy Resource Center and Involved for Life offer adoption referral services, childbirth and parenting classes, and material help such as diapers, formula, and clothing. Feminists for Life works to bring day care centers to college campuses so that women don’t have to choose between completing their education and having their child. There are so many pro-life organizations where your money can make a difference. Finally, if you want to support women in crisis pregnancies, don’t make harsh cuts to government programs such as WIC and food stamps that provide a safety net for poor single mothers. Pro-life men, please put your money where your mouth is on this issue.

 

My last tip for pro-life men is to promote a culture of responsible fatherhood. Studies show that women who believe they cannot rely on their partner to help care for a child are more likely to have abortions. Not only that, some studies indicate that up to 70 percent of men facing a partner’s unexpected pregnancy will pressure her to obtain an abortion. The widespread use of birth control, the availability of abortion, and changing cultural expectations about premarital sex have allowed men to take the position that a crisis pregnancy is strictly the woman’s problem. Men can speak to other men about making responsible choices to avoid unexpected pregnancies and about stepping up to provide support when their partner does become pregnant.

 

Of course, I know many pro-life men who are extremely compassionate, and who offer support to women in crisis pregnancies by their actions as well as their words. And women undoubtedly bear their share of responsibility when an unexpected pregnancy occurs. But if you claim to be a pro-life man, yet seem to only offer criticism to women in crisis, don’t expect anyone to listen.

 

A version of this piece appeared in the Dallas Morning News on April 4, 2016, as well as in the Miami Herald, the Burlington Hawkeye, and several other newspapers.