The ethics of being a Catholic American in a time of global unrest

I am a patriot. In the words of my father, "You could be the president of the United States!" He was so proud to tell me that when I was in high school considering my college options -- West Point, Santa Clara, UC Santa Barbara.

I was born in the United States to an immigrant couple. Their dream for my "better" life was realized in his simple excitement. "You could be the president of the United States!"

I spent three years in the Army ROTC program at Santa Clara University. Filled with leadership training -- excellence in teamwork, decision-making and development of the whole person -- I literally marched beside, in front of, and behind many other soldier-leaders whose commitment to protecting American freedoms and human rights seemed paramount.

It didn't occur to me as a 19-year-old how odd it was that Santa Clara even had an ROTC program or that I was under the radar as a conscientious objector. It was 1995, only six years after the Jesuits at Santa Clara got involved in the care and concern for Jesuit Fr. Jon Sobrino as his Jesuit companions at the Universidad Centroamericana were martyred by 26 members of the Salvadoran military, 19 of whom were trained at the School of the Americas. My conscience told me that killing was wrong, so I simply checked the box on my application form that said I had "a firm, fixed, and sincere objection to participation in war in any form or the bearing of arms, by reason of religious training and/or belief."

As the years unfolded my vocation as a minister committed to efforts of nonviolence, I consider my personal and social responsibility as a "privileged" American during these times of conflict, war and terror.

Being a woman in a patriarchal church, I experience the tension of residing at the margins of a dominant culture. Being an American whose immigrant family prioritized my education, I live in the tension of privilege, opportunity, judgment and responsibility.

So how does my faith inform my human responsibility in a time of Ferguson, the Islamic State, gang violence in Central America and all over our world, hypocrisy, and scandal?

I wonder: If I were the president of the United States, what would I believe? How would I act?

The deontologist in me wants to believe that despite the outcomes, the right and the good are defined by my actions or inactions, my duties and my obligations. In this case, my obligation to those less fortunate ought to trump my actions to secure my own wealth and prestige.

The ethicist in me who values striving for virtue considers her character and how it's developed and continues to seek out the good and learn from past decisions. Now I consider advocating for the children who cross three borders to arrive in my country. Whereas my place in life was different a few years ago, perhaps the right moral action is to step up in 2014.

And then, really, the human, care-full and compassionate person in me wants to roll up my sleeves and be with those most hurt by our policies because my obligations toward the good should not be in a vacuum. In fact, it is stories of those disenfranchised in our church, in our schools, in our families, in our world that compel me to act in the service of their dignity.

Do we send ground troops to secure cities and towns in danger of being controlled by the Islamic State?

Does the federal government loosen our borders and offer amnesty despite all the scary implications onto our economics and our communities?

Do I encourage a slash in pensions when the very investment may help to develop a better, humane police force?

Do I speak out against the crimes of the religious and the business corporations as they overlook the needs of the poor, the hurt, the victimized?

So many questions. Perhaps I remain open and influenced by wisdom figures all around me. Perhaps I stand with those whose lives have been challenged, broken, and demoralized and see how they approach these complicated relationships.

For today, I gain inspiration from my Jewish sisters and brothers, who continue to struggle for identity, belonging and dignity, as they mark the beginning of another new year. Perhaps I take their stance of repentance on Rosh Hashanah. Perhaps I continue to reflect on the ethics and morality of my own decisions and the decisions of my community, then ask for God's help to be better today and in the days to come.

[Jocelyn A. Sideco is a retreat leader, spiritual director and innovative minister who specializes in mission-centered ministry. She teaches bioethics, feminist theology, Christian sexuality, and Christian Scriptures at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif. Visit her online ecumenical ministry, In Good Company, at or email her at]

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