#ThinkerThursdays: Christopher Hale

#ThinkerThursdays is a new series of interviews with Christians whom we believe are writing thoughtfully and gracefully in today's public square. You will likely have read articles by these Christian thinkers as they grapple with today's cultural, political, economic trends and issues. We hope to illuminate what goes on "behind-the-scenes" of their writing and thinking (I conduct the interviews with Michael's help). This is the third of the series; the first one was with Laura Turner and the second with Alissa Wilkinson.

Christopher Hale (@chrisjollyhale) is the executive director at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and the co-founder of Millennial. He is a regular contributor to Time and Crux. He helped lead national Catholic outreach for President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign. He is a 2011 graduate of Xavier University, where he studied in the Philosophy, Politics and the Public (PPP) Honors program.

1.    You publicly identify, I believe, as a progressive Catholic. What does faith uniquely contribute to the progressive movement?

At the heart of progressivism is the radical belief that every human life has dignity and that society should include everyone without exception. Faith challenges progressivism to live up to that ideal in a way that other traditions cannot. There is a line in progressivism that says anything that is supported by a progressive institution is progressive. People view what we’re doing as challenging what it does it really mean to be progressive.

2.    Could you give me examples of where Catholic progressives clash with the rest of the movement?

There are progressives who think the progressivism belongs to the government alone – it is the government’s responsibility alone to care for the poor, it’s not my individual responsibility as a person. I am outsourcing it to the State, but I myself have no responsibility to my brother and sister.

Additionally, let’s look at income inequality. Too often the economic policy of the Democratic Party is formed out of a social bourgeois program, where it begins from the middle class. A truly progressive politician starts from below, from the poor. Jesus Christ came among his people as a poor man with no home, with no future. God is poor in the Christian worldview.

3.    But how is that distinct from, say, Marxism?

Marxism, socialism and other economic policies have a collective mindset that often values society over individuals, movements over persons. In the Christian worldview, those are false dichotomies. We care for each person and every person.

This plays out in particular over questions of human life. From a purely secular economic perspective, some lives matter more than others. But from a Christian worldview, assisted suicide is not progressive; abortion is not progressive. These are things that devalue human life. From a secular economic perspective, you could argue assisted suicide adds value for society. There is no room for that in Christianity. In Christianity, you will never value totality of humanity over and above the human person. They are in tandem. 

4.    When you introduce yourself as a Catholic within progressive circles or conversations, what responses do you get?

When Michael and I worked on the 2012 campaign, it was a different time in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis has made it cool to be Catholic among progressives. Now I wish progressives would listen to him on the totality of his message, but he’s made it easy for us to show up and be there and say, “Yes, I am a progressive, I am a Catholic.”

5.     Speaking of the Pope – could you put your finger on what exactly is so compelling about him?

Oftentimes Catholics, mainline Protestants or evangelicals share a desire to evangelize the faith. The only Bible that most people will ever encounter is another human person. What’s so intriguing about Pope Francis is that when you encounter him you know you’ve had an experience with Jesus. In the end, being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a philosophical argument, but a lived encounter of a person. And the Pope is showing us the beauty, truth and goodness for God in the flesh. That’s the most compelling argument for Christianity.

6.    Beyond Pope Francis, what does Catholicism bring to the wider Christian community, especially as we navigate public life?

We bring 2000 years of unbroken, lived experience of practicing our faith in public life, and that depth of experience creates an intellectual depth. We’ve been thinking about these issues for a long time. These aren’t new. Every thing has happened in the Catholic Church at least once.

7.    What is an issue that evangelicals are newly concerned about, but really, from the eyes of the Catholic Church, is an “old issue”?

I would say a lot of the conversation regarding religious liberty in the United States — some of it justified some of it perhaps a bit over the top. The Catholic Church has been dealing with religious liberty issues since the Roman empire executed St. Peter. Sometimes the language of fatalism around religious liberty, or language that the end of the world or church is coming should be contextualized.

8.    So you weren’t bunkering down for the Y2K?

Yes, exactly, don’t go over the top with the "end of the times." There are plenty of battles that have been faced and there are plenty more to come. As a last comment, Christianity cannot be a fortress faith that is protecting itself behind walls. All walls need to come down. As Christians in this era, we need to realize not many people are knocking on our doors anymore, so it’s time to go out and encounter people.