No, I’m Not Talking About The Seamless Garb Jesus’ Fake Wife Sewed Up For Him
In Christian and political circles, there seems to be some confusion about what the Consistent Life philosophy, the Seamless Garb, is all about. In one of its most recent essays, Keith Pavlischek of the Institute for Religious Democracy berated pacifists who couldn’t stick to their “unrealistic” positions, in his post, Distorting Just War Theory. At a crucial juncture of his post, Pavlischek dismisses the Seamless Garb philosophy and the idea that Jesus’ demand to love the enemy includes embracing them has no relevance when it comes to politics. Under the guise of Niebuhr’s Christian realism (like President Obama: see: Preisdent Obama’s Christian Realism, the Institute for Religious Democracy promotes a new American Crusade mentality, where violence IS THE ONLY POSSIBLE response to evil in the world. This is the significant difference between reasonable Just War Theorists and the IRD.
In another essay by Pavlischek, Seamless Silliness, he argues that, “The “seamless garment” or “consistent ethic of life” position recognizes no moral difference between the acts of a cold-blooded murderer, a vigilante lynch mob seeking revenge.” Not only is this premise inaccurate, but as the principle argument that the IRD and KP rely on, their entire argument breaks down because they just do not read pacifist and Seamless Garb (TSG) closely. The Just War has a limited set of criterion (suggestions) in which politicians should use (ideally) as a guide to know when to get to war. Just War Theory as Public Policy has leaders of nation-states (as part of asking the question who goes to war), based on Just Cause (self-defense sometimes), Right Intent (an intent, mind you that does not limit warfare since occupying is considered a valid part of JWT throughout its history), and the pursuit of the common good (which gets confused a lot with the national interest).
What the Seamless Garb/Consistent Pro-Life Ethic does is it takes the Just War Theory, and eliminates all of the aforementioned criteria, and makes One Person the set criteria for Justice and Peace: The body of Christ Jesus. One of the most articulate voices of the Seamless Garb is the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin. Apart from being reform minded when it came to ecclessiology, he was also an advocate of a Christ-centered, tradition respecting nonviolent politics. Born to Italian immigrants in South Carolina, he grew up in the Bible belt and the former hotbed of the Confederate States of America. Coming from a place of marginality, Italian and Catholic in uber-Protestant South, Bernardin grew intellectually to value human life as sacred, in a world where black bodies were desacralized during the Jim Crow Era. “I have a profound belief that the gospel invites us to embrace a “consistent ethic of life.” Such an ethic is based on the belief that life is a precious gift from God which must be protected and nurtured from the moment of conception until natural death” (Selected Works of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Volume I: Homilies and Teaching Documents. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2000). The cardinal was morally opposed to the Cold War, especially to Ronald Reagan’s over-aggressive military spending. Nuclear arms build-up produced a culture of fear and death. The revenue usurped by the Pentagon could have been use to uplift those who lived in poverty. The Vatican under Pope John Paul II continued to advance Bernardin’s agenda. Today, as for Pope Benedict, that is still up in the air, but Sister Helen Prejean continues to be an outstanding opponent against the death penalty.
The IRD sees the lives of our “enemies” as cheap, expendable, in the name of Church Crusades Revitalized. While there are many Consistent Lifers who are pacifist, there are some who are Just Warriors. I just happen to fall into the former category. The beautiful thing about the Seamless Garment is that it is about putting Christ Jesus of the Gospels first, him on the Cross. In John 19:23, there is a picture of Jesus’ robe being divided up by the Roman soldiers. They agents of empire are splitting up and dividing up that which gives us life, like when Jesus’ encounter with the woman with the issue of blood, she was given new life just by touching his garment (Mark 5: 21-34).
One respected Protestant thinker of the Seamless Garb position was that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As I mentioned in my review of his ETHICS, following the Crucified Christ means that Jesus invades not just the depths of hell, but also the everyday mundane sinful state of our affairs. Bonhoeffer views human bodily existence as absolutely essential, and of sacred worth much like Bernardin, as I argued in Prolife And Black 2: Bonhoeffer, Slavery, Abortion, and Black Bodies.
Lesson: When we treasure the embodiment of YHWH’s Word Made Flesh as Invaluable and absolutely necessary for our salvation, rather than something as inconsequential, in politics, we will come to see every person as being of infinite worth.