What’s next for the Nuns on the Bus
The leading “Nun on the Bus,” Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice advocacy group, joins Welton this week to talk about the trip across the country that captured so much media attention and public support, the tour’s impact on the cause of social justice and what’s next for this vital cause.
RUSH TRANSCRIPT: Sister Simone Campbell, NETWORK[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: Welcome back to State of Belief Radio. I’m Welton Gaddy.
More than one news article about the “Nuns on the Bus” tour, officially known as “Nuns Drive for Faith, Family & Fairness,” described the reception the sisters received as the kind ordinarily reserved for rock stars. Anyone familiar with the thoughtful voice of NETWORK Executive Director Sr. Simone Campbell – and you should be, if you listen to State of Belief Radio – would find such a description truly incongruous. But there can be no doubt that the bus trip had a terrific impact. Here to talk about that impact is Sr. Simone – welcome back to State of Belief Radio![SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL]: I’m so glad to be with you. Thank you. [WG]: The “Nuns on the Bus” tour got lots of media attention. I know it was more than that. What was this all about for you? [SC]: Well, I think my experience of it, as I reflect on it, it was the Holy Spirit alive and well in our midst, because the whole thing was sort of miraculous to me. We realized that no one person controlled the event. It was everybody putting in their best part. It was like Pentecost: to make a message – or create a message – that’s heard in the land, that touches people’s hearts, that enlivens the folks way beyond anything any one of us could do. It was truly a sacred time for us. [WG]: So it was much more than you expected? [SC]: Totally more than we expected! We thought we were going on the road to educate people about what was happening in Congress. That’s kind of dull – and what happened was touching this amazing place in the hunger in our nation for coming together, for having conversation, for lifting up the needs of people who are struggling in our society in this tough economy, and folks just so hungry to be together. It was way more than any of us expected. [WG]: You received a special greeting from members of Congress. Tell us about that. [SC]: Oh, this was so dear. When we came back, the 75 members of Congress, a bipartisan group, had taped this “thank you” to us for the work that we had done – both as sisters generally in the United States, and for being nuns on the bus, for raising up the work of our sisters. I was so touched by that; but what it said to me is that we didn’t know that the work of Catholic sisters was seen by so many people and that it touches something good and deep in our nation and in how we think of ourselves as a nation. And that they expressed their gratitude – oh, it was just humbling. It was amazing. [WG]: I tell you, Simone, what you’ve just said I didn’t know was as deep in the American psyche as it is, but from all kinds of unexpected places I have heard nothing but enthusiasm and congratulations and admiration for what you all were all doing. [SC]: That’s so true! We did these things we called “Friend Raisers.” They weren’t to raise money. They were to raise friends, and to just have a chance for people to come together and hear our stories on the bus. And we did one each evening wherever we were for the evening and I thought, you know, maybe 20-30 people would come. The smallest group we ever had was in small little Hershey, Pennsylvania where we had over 100 folks – and most crowds were like 300 or more. It was awesome! But what happened, I thought it would be Catholics – but it’s everyone across the spectrum. The Jewish community, the Buddhists, the Hindus, you know, and then all kinds of Christians and the Muslim community and then a bunch of folks that are non-believers. And they would say things to me like: “Well, I don’t know about your day job, I mean religion, you know, but what you say makes so much sense to me.” [WG]: Well, to come to hear a group of nuns talking about social justice – you would think might have been a challenge; and yet it was a great attraction. [SC]: It was totally an attraction! And I think another piece that touched people deeply is that we spoke about it from the experience on the ground – up; that we didn’t impose our views and have, you know, our powerpoint and 14 bullet points – really bullet points, you know, in that sort of penetrating way – rather, we came and told stories about what we had found; about responsible programs, and how responsible programs that sisters run all across the country have as their cornerstone, often, federal funding. And people just don’t know that. They think: “Oh, waste, fraud and abuse – just cut the waste, fraud and abuse” – when the proposal in the house budget is to cut the life out of the social safety net, out of service provision, out of the heart of who we are as Americans. And touching people with the stories, I think, made the huge difference. [WG]: I know that one of the focuses of the whole Nuns on the Bus tour was the so-called Paul Ryan budget. What do you think you were able to achieve in terms of that budget? [SC]: Well, people didn’t know what was in it. People didn’t know that the food stamp – we call them SNAP now – the food stamp proposal that Mr. Ryan says: “Oh, churches can pick up this little cut” – that it would require every church, synagogue, mosque, house of worship in the United States, every single one of us, to raise fifty thousand dollars each every year for ten years to replace the money he’s cutting from food stamps!
And they also didn’t know that the folks he’s saying are taking advantage of the system are like the family I met at St. Benedict’s Dining Room in Milwaukee. Billy and his wife and two kids, where his hours were cut back at work, they can only afford enough to either keep a roof over their head or food on the table. And to keep their kids in the same school, they chose keeping a roof over their head – and they go every evening to St. Benedict’s for dinner, and then they use food stamps to do breakfast and lunch. And that, in fact – I realized after talking to Billy – is really a business subsidy. It’s keeping his employer with an employee who can somehow get by with his family and continue working part time in this tough economy. And so we want to think, oh these are just giving, you know, charities they really don’t need it – I mean this man is 133% of poverty. I mean, that’s so low with a wife and two kids – and what are they going to do? What are they going to do?[WG]: Gosh. [SC]: So he’s being responsible, and we need to be responsible as a nation. [WG]: I’m very interested in the faithfulbudget.org initiative. What’s next on your agenda? [SC]: Well, right now, these two weeks, we’ve been doing lobby visits on Capitol Hill to make sure that House and Senate know about the Faithful Budget, and our historic call of the faith community for reasonable revenue for responsible programs.
Historically, many of the denominations have not had a policy around taxes and tax increases, but we all know in this economy we have to be responsible. We can’t just continue putting good programs on credit cards, we should pay for them. But we also need to do the deep analysis of what got us into this problem – which wasn’t social programs. What got us into this problem was at the time we decided, as a nation, to wage two wars – some of which we opposed – but we did make that choice to wage two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rather than deciding to pay for them, at that very moment we made huge tax cuts that benefited the wealthy, principally.
And so that’s what got us into this debt. So to be responsible and get us out of it we know we’ve got to raise taxes and pay for what we put on the credit cards. That’s what we have to do.[WG]: Yeah, which makes sense. [SC]: And so the Faithful Budget is a way forward of the Christians, Muslims and Jewish community came together, we wrote it, we fought about it, we struggled – but we succeeded in writing a budget that says that we as a nation can be responsible, we can provide these programs for the most vulnerable and that’s who we are, that’s what we should do and there are other ways to save money going forward as well as other ways to raise taxes. [WG]: And you know I hope members of Congress as well as Americans themselves realize it is an interfaith initiative. [SC]: Oh, absolutely. [WG]: And we don’t have to fight with each other about this, it’s common to all of us. [SC]: That’s right, that’s right. It’s the Christian, Muslim and Jewish community here in DC, we – all of the folks that have representatives here – we all worked on it together, and we don’t have 100% sign-on, some denominations are still processing the sign-on, but I know people are working on it this summer when they have their conventions and various assemblies. So we expect some more people to be signing on as we go forward, but we’ve got 37 already. [WG]: For a listener to this program who says: “I didn’t get to see or meet the Nuns on the Bus” – talk for just a second to that person, while you listen to what you’ve heard from the people around you and what you hear from members of Congress. What should those listeners do to be involved? [SC]: Oh, to be involved what they need to do is very simple. You need to express to your neighbors, you need to express to your family, even folks – I need to express to folks like my brother Jim, who’s kind of a contrarian whenever it comes to his older sister – but we need to talk to each other about who we are as a nation, and then we need to talk to our representatives in Congress. That we believe that they should govern. They have to quit playing this political game where it’s only about the sports metaphor, and they need to solve the though problems of our times – not on the backs of people who are struggling to support this economy, not on the backs of Billy and his family, not on the backs of all the other folks that we saw that are struggling so hard. Rather, we need to be responsible as a nation, pay for our responsible programs with reasonable revenue. There is a proposal coming up next week that’s a really good idea, we think, is to end some of the Bush era tax cuts, that’s one way forward; but there’s a bunch of other ideas floating out there, but we need to insist that they are responsible and raise revenue to make our nation who we are. The fact is, we are not a nation based on individualism – and I’m calling that an unpatriotic lie. It is unpatriotic to try to say we all do it on our own. Rather, the clue is the first three words of the Constitution: “We, the people.” That’s who we are, we’re a communitarian people, we’re a communitarian nation, democracy requires us to be in this together. We’ve got to have each other’s backs. It’s an article of faith in all faiths but it’s also a piece of our Constitution. That’s what people need to do. [WG]: I tell you what, if you’re not really careful, you’re going to preach – and you’ve already inspired, I guarantee you that. Well, I’ve got to ask you one more thing. What was the highlight of the trip for you? What did this trip do to Sister Simone Campbell? [SC]: It profoundly changed me, Welton. I just feel… I have all of these people, I have a page and a half list of people’s names who are still rattling around inside me, who bring tears to my eyes, just as you asked that question. And probably the family that’s strongest in that is Margaret’s family. This woman died because she didn’t have healthcare, she was 56 years old, she had lost her job in the recession and couldn’t afford COBRA coverage with her unemployment benefits, and she died of colon cancer at 56 after working for thirty years for this company. And her sister and relatives came directly from her memorial service to our friend raiser in Cincinnati, and brought me her picture, and we just held each other and cried because what they wanted was for no more Margarets to die.
And since then, I’ve used Margaret as an example, over and over, about how, in our nation, the Affordable Care Act is a step forward, and we have to wake up that in the richest nation on earth people should not die because they don’t have health insurance. To be pro-life is to make sure Margaret lives. And they’ve touched me deeply; and getting emails from her sister Jenny since then has really strengthened me in my resolve to make sure that no more Margarets will die.[WG]: Sr. Simone Campbell is the Executive Director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby. As one of the Nuns on the Bus, she brought the message of her organization directly to the places and leaders that need to hear it most. Sr. Simone, I guarantee you we will do everything we can to get your comments today before as many people as possible, and if you want to use this in helping distribute the word yourself, let us know and we’ll participate in that. I’m grateful for your ministry; I’m grateful you were able to be with us here on State of Belief Radio; I’m grateful to know that every morning, someone like you is getting up and praying, and then going to do hard work to help this nation do the right thing. [SC]: Oh, thank you so much Welton. Together we can make the difference.
State of Belief is based on the proposition that religion has a positive and healing role to play in the life of the nation. The show explains and explores that role by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America – the most religiously diverse country in the world – while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Each week, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy offers listeners critical analysis of the news of religion and politics, and seeks to provide listeners with an understanding and appreciation of religious liberty. Rev. Gaddy tackles politics with the firm belief that the best way to secure freedom for religion in America is to secure freedom from religion. State of Belief illustrates how the Religious Right is wrong – wrong for America and bad for religion.
Through interviews with celebrities and newsmakers and field reports from around the country, State of Belief explores the intersection of religion with politics, culture, media, and activism, and promotes diverse religious voices in a religiously pluralistic world.
Author of more than 20 books, including First Freedom First: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy leads the national non-partisan grassroots and educational organization Interfaith Alliance and serves as Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana.
In addition to being a prolific writer, Dr. Gaddy hosts the weekly State of Belief radio program, where he explores the role of religion in the life of the nation by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America, while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Dr. Gaddy provides regular commentary to the national media on issues relating to religion and politics. He has appeared on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and Hardball, NBC’s Nightly News and Dateline, PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, ABC’s World News, and CNN’s American Morning. Former host of Morally Speaking on NBC affiliate KTVE in Monroe, Louisiana, Dr. Gaddy is a regular contributor to mainstream and religious news outlets.
While ministering to churches with a message of inclusion, Dr. Gaddy emerged as a leader among progressive and moderate Baptists. Among his many leadership roles, he is a past president of the Alliance of Baptists and has been a 20-year member of the Commission of Christian Ethics of the Baptist World Alliance. His past leadership roles include serving as a member of the General Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, President of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Chair of the Pastoral Leadership Commission of the Baptist World Alliance and member of the World Economic Forum’s Council of 100. Rev. Gaddy currently serves on the White House task force on the reform of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Prior to the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Dr. Gaddy served in many SBC leadership roles including as a member of the convention’s Executive Committee from 1980-84 and Director of Christian Citizenship Development of the Christian Life Commission from 1973-77.
Dr. Gaddy received his undergraduate degree from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee and his doctoral degree and divinity training from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.