To read globally recognized Franciscan friar Richard Rohr’s Eager to Love is to discover a lens through which to understand and appreciate the way Bernie Sanders looks at the world, and what his call for “revolution” is all about. Over and over again, Rohr describes the Franciscan way as one of living on the edge of the inside of both church and society. And on the edge is where we find Bernie Sanders.
Sanders, a lifelong Independent who chose to run for President as a Democratic Socialist is “living on the edge of the inside” of the Democratic Party.
It is a position from which he can begin to lead the overturning of Citizens United and the corrupting influence of Super PACS.
If the Franciscan way is a lived spirituality, where “things are only found to be true in the doing of them,” Sanders’ Democratic Socialism is very compatible with that view. He starts by rejecting the hold that corporations and Big Money have on Congress and those who get there with their help.
Sanders is the only candidate who does not have a Super PAC.
In explaining the reluctance of most of us to critique the “self-serving institutions that give us security, status or identity, Rohr points out that one shrinks from removing “the plank that [we] are standing on.” These institutions we cling to, he says, are the ones usually considered too big to fail, and control what Dorothy Day described as “a dirty rotten system.” Sanders’ words are not too different. He calls the business model of Wall Street, “fraud.”
He can do that because he has spent a lifetime resisting being controlled by that system. If “the way of radical Christianity is simply to stay outside of such systems to begin with, so they cannot control your breadth of thinking, feeling, loving, and living out universal justice,” Sanders’ way of radical democracy treads a similar path.
By refusing the money of billionaires and plutocrats, he claims a moral authority and independence to challenge the system. He is positioned to help remake it in ways no other candidate is.
Rohr tells us that the Franciscans were called to “live themselves into new ways of thinking, more than think themselves into new ways of living.”
He is criticized for not saying enough about how the revolution he calls for will play out. But perhaps that is so because he really is calling for everyone to help shape the revolution. The fact that young people are overwhelmingly drawn to his campaign suggest that he is offering something akin to what Rohr tells us the Franciscans offered: “a very different imaginarium (the unconscious container inside which each group does its thinking). Sanders’ candidacy and the way he is running his campaign attest to the power—and the possibility—of revolutionary thinking.
Despite Francis’ insistence on extreme simplicity, on being practitioners, not performers of the Gospel, Rohr explains that over time, that changed. In reaction to the persecution and the martyrdom of some Franciscans in the early 14th century in France, the order became steadily much more cautious. “The sad result was that obedience and group loyalty became the primary virtues instead of love or compassion to the outsider.”
(That tendency was writ shamefully large on the Republican side in recent days as each GOP contender refused to back down from their pledge to support their front-runner should he get the nomination. This despite their vigorous condemnation of everything Trump stands for, and their unanimous judgment that he is unfit to be President on every possible dimension. And despite his descent into new depths of bigotry, racism and the incitement of violence. Each of his detractors wears their Christianity conspicuously as a mark of their candidacy, but that does not appear to influence their decision-making as much as their desire to not remove the plank they stand on in the GOP.)
Sanders would be the last one to claim affinity with the saint who gave us “brother sun and sister moon.” But he turns often to the words of Pope Francis and his call for “care of creation” in arguing for the urgency of combating climate change—the one “war” he feels we should be engaged in with all of the intellectual, technological, and financial resources we can muster. He is the only candidate to say NO to fracking, NO to the death penalty, NO to legislation that would condemn “guest workers” to near servitude, NO to trade deals written by corporations. He says YES to free tuition at public colleges, YES to healthcare for all, YES to rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and creating new jobs, YES to pay parity for women, and protection of their autonomy over their bodies, YES to a living wage ($15 an hour), YES to humane immigration reform, YES to criminal justice reform, and an end to the disgrace of physical, political, legal, economic and environmental racial injustice.
Sounds pretty Franciscan to me. And it sure isn’t what Rohr calls “birdbath Franciscanism.” Whether one is Catholic or not, the Franciscan way is a pretty strong plank to stand on.