When he was installed as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh last year, Catholic progressives wondered what kind of ally they might have in Bishop Michael Burbidge. Of course, Burbidge strongly backs the Catholic Church’s stances against abortion and stem cell research, but the jury was out on where the new bishop might stand on the death penalty and war.

A good sign came last November when Burbidge joined bishops from Georgia and South Carolina by signing a letter calling on Congress to overhaul immigration policy.

Immigrants “have become a vital part of the fabric of our local areas and make substantial contributions to our economic and social life,” the letter stated. “We see on a daily basis the devastating impact our current policy is having, not only on those migrating, but also in the heated debate that is negatively impacting our communities.”

Burbidge also called for the abolition of the death penalty. In an open letter to Gov. Michael Easley (who’s Catholic) published Feb. 3 in The News & Observer, Burbidge wrote: “Executions fail to reconstruct justice and to bring forth reconciliation. Instead, the use of the death penalty fosters revenge and plants seeds of further violence.”

During a homily at his installation Mass last summer, Burbidge did not mention the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, nor did he mention the war then going on between Israel and Hezbollah.

The mystery of Burbidge’s views on war ended during a Feb. 24 interview on Headline Saturday on WRAL-TV. Under questioning from WRAL reporter David Crabtree, an ordained Episcopal deacon, and N&O religion reporter Yonat Shimron, Burbidge said war “is something to be avoided at all costs,” but he went on to say that warspecifically the war in Iraqwas necessary.

“[W]e can never just say we’re content that we’re at war; of course not,” Burbidge said. “But it’s that balance of security and protection [of] society against all the attacks, some of which I’m not sure that we’re all aware of, and so there’s a hope and a confidence and a trust that people who have information, that may be in clearer detail than we know, are doing what they believe is best for our country, always, I hope and pray, with the intention that the sooner we can end violence and war the better.

“So it’s hard to make a specific, definitive statement. The end is, please, let’s end this war and violence as soon as possible, but at the same time being respectful of the need to secure and protect our society, and just trust that the judgment is being made with those intentions.”

In a follow-up question, Shimron asked: “So you support the president right now in his plan for increased troops?”

Burbidge responded: “I think that sort of unity is essential, that we’re not divided as a country…. But I hope and pray that every initiative is being taken to end it soon. Not to be content that it’s OK to continue on this path. But I’m trusting that there could be in the president’s judgment, and those who advise him, there’s a reason why perhaps we cannot do this right now, but let’s move towards it.”

Burbidge’s comments, which appeared to defer to Bush’s leadership on the matter of war, rankled many Catholics who oppose the Iraq war on theological grounds, claiming, as the late Pope John Paul II did, that an unprovoked war against Iraq did not meet the church’s “just war” criteria.

In a letter to the bishop, Alan Archibald of Hillsborough said Burbidge’s position on Iraq “does not accord with the substantive requirements of Christian peacemaking…. Bishop Burbidge’s willingness to support the Iraq war because ‘the government has information that common citizens are unaware of’ is an open invitation to fascism, a political movement characterized by citizens bonding together in uncritical support of policies set forth by autocratic leaders…. The bishop’s wishful thinkingbased on his zeal to put blind trust in ‘the untrustworthy’wears a thoroughly modern smiley face, but embodies a message every bit as repugnant as the deafening silence of the German churches in the 1930s.”


Much was said in 2004 about the Democratic Party essentially writing off faith-based voters, allowing Republicans to claim God was on their side. George Bush won a second term, and the “godless” Democrats lost a great opportunity.

Democrats don’t want to see history repeat itself in 2008. Enter DevoutDemocrats.org, a progressive Web site that features various people of faith touting the connection between God and politics.

The home page of DevoutDemocrats.org features the face of former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith, who is a longtime member of Chapel Hill’s progressive Olin T. Binkley Memorial Baptist Church. Smith is identified as “American Baptist, Devout Democrat.”

A quote from Smith states: “I’m a lifelong Baptist and vote for Democrats. One reason? Democrats are serious about alleviating poverty.” Smith’s support is accompanied by a quote from Matthew 25: “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

The site also includes links to other progressive faith-based groups, including Carrboro’s People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, which includes Republican and Democratic members.

“It’s always a mistake when one party cedes the so-called God-vote to another party,” says Stephen Dear, executive director of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty. “Progressive people of faith need to make sure their voices are heard in defense of the multitudes of poor and oppressed people who have no voice in today’s political marketplace.”

NAACP’s Barber fires up anti-war crowd

The crowd that gathered March 17 in Fayetteville to mourn four years of the Iraq war was treated to a fiery anti-war speech by state NAACP President William Barber.

Barber, who is also pastor of Goldsboro’s Greenleaf Christian Church, told the crowd the ground had “been made sacred by our presence here today.”

Using the Old Testament story from I Samuel, Barber compared the war in Iraq with another unjust war with Israel.

Samuel told the people, Barber said, to “stop fighting and come to Mispah … and Mispah is a place where they are called to repent because that’s the only way out of the mess that they have gotten themselves into.

“I stopped by to suggest and to say today that it’s time for America to repent. False pride is a dangerous thing. It’s time to repent.”

Most of the U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq “have come from poor rural areas,” Barber said. “Approximately 26 percent of those have been minorities.”

Barber said “the wind of repentance is blowing even now. More have been killed in Iraq than were killed on Sept. 11, and some people said that’s the reason we went there. But we now know all of that was misinformation and lies….Thousands upon thousands of innocent Iraqis have died…. Each day in Iraq, an estimated $195 million is being spent.”

Barber said a nation’s budget “in its aggregate is a statement about values and priorities. In the midst of this warperhaps because of itour president is proposing cuts. He’s calling for cuts on the one hand, more money for war on the other hand, and we still have not taken care of those devastated by the hurricanes Katrina and Rita…. You cannot be about morality at home while you prosecute an immoral war abroad.”

Premiere of Still…Life

The Raleigh-based Justice Theater Project will present Still…Life, an original production that takes an in-depth, intimate look at capital punishment in North Carolina.

The play is based on interviews with North Carolinians who have been directly affected by the death penalty, including death row prisoners, murder victims’ family members and a prison chaplain.

Three shows of Still…Life will be presented at Cardinal Gibbons High School Performing Arts Center (1401 Edwards Mill Road, Raleigh). Show times are 8 p.m. April 13 and 14 and 3 p.m. April 15. A complimentary reception follows on opening night. Post-show discussion sessions, including cast, crew and audience, will follow the April 14 and 15 shows. Shows are free, but a $10 suggested donation is appreciated. For more information, contact Melissa Zeph at 215-0889 or e-mail melissa@thejusticetheaterproject.org.

Good Friday “Way of the Cross”

Join more than 200 other activists for the final two days of the Pilgrimage for Justice and Peace, the annual Holy Week walk to promote justice at home and in Latin America.

The Pilgrimage makes stops in Durham on Thursday and concludes in Raleigh on Good Friday with a walk from St. Ambrose Episcopal Church (813 Darby St.) starting at 8:30 a.m. and ending with a noon Way of the Cross program at the state Capitol. For information, call Gail Phares at 624-0646.

“Step It Up” for the Environment

In an effort to call attention to the perils of excessive carbon emissions, local clergy are calling on people to gather April 14 at noon on the steps of Chapel Hill’s University United Methodist Church on Franklin Street.

The event is sponsored by Step It Up 2007, a movement to encourage and support public officials in state legislatures and Congress to pass legislation to reduce carbon emissions. The idea for the event came out of two clergy breakfast meetings sponsored by N.C. Interfaith Power & Light, a program initiated by the N.C. Council of Churches.

The plan is simple, says the Rev. Richard Edens, pastor of United Church of Chapel Hill. “We want to gather as many representatives from as many congregations as possible on the church steps.” Participants will be asked to sign cards pledging to reduce their carbon footprint, Edens says.

For information, call 942-3540 or e-mail redens@unitedchurch.org.