Posted by: Nichole M. Flores | October 20, 2013

Nichole Flores in America: Seeing migrant women through the eyes of Christ

Originally posted on Millennial:

Millennial writer Nichole Flores has a new article in America that addresses the issue of sexual violence in the agriculture industry, along with other threats to human dignity and rights:

“The rape of migrant women is but one violation of workers’ rights and human dignity common in U.S. agricultural fields. Undocumented women and men are subject to human trafficking and modern day slavery, wage theft, exposure to hazardous pesticides, family separation and other violations of economic, human and legal rights.”

The full article can be read here.

View original

Posted by: Nichole M. Flores | October 4, 2013

Government shutdown is a big deal for needy women and children

Government shutdown is a big deal for needy women and children

Posted by: Nichole M. Flores | October 1, 2013

The Discipline of Dialogue: Finding Faith in Difference

The Discipline of Dialogue: Finding Faith in Difference.

March on Washington Anniversary: Fannie Lou Hamer and the New Evangelization.

Posted by: Nichole M. Flores | April 1, 2013

Institutional Religious Freedom: Broadening the Scope

Protest in support of Religious Freedom

Will Catholics always stand up for religious freedom?
(CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

The 2011 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) contraceptive mandate has garnered ample media attention as a polarizing issue among U.S. Catholics and the general public. A rhetorical icon for the religious liberty debate, contraception orients discourse about religious freedom to personal practices, political opinions, and religious beliefs. A vital issue for many people–especially for women, who are profoundly affected by reproductive choice and public health policies–a narrow-minded focus on contraception limits both moral discernment and political imagination regarding religious liberty. Broadening the scope of the current conversation, I offer the following reflections on religious liberty and immigration law.

Several states, dissatisfied with federal efforts to curtail undocumented immigration, have passed controversial laws empowering police to ascertain unauthorized residents after stopping them for traffic violations. Setting their sights on employers who might attempt to hire undocumented persons or traffickers who seek to indenture them, Alabama has passed legislation–purportedly to protect civil order and the common good–that forbids “harboring” unauthorized residents. Church leaders argue, however, that the law criminalizes basic Christian pastoral practices by prohibiting religiously affiliated schools, hospitals and non-profits from interacting with or providing assistance to unauthorized residents. In light of this tension between church autonomy and state law, Christians there are faced with difficult questions: To what extent does the law infringe upon the autonomy of religious and religiously affiliated institutions?  To what extent are churches responsible for respecting civic law?  If a law is unjust, ought Christian institutions violate it in prophetic witness to the Gospel? While this case has received significantly less media attention than the HHS mandate and elicited less fervor among U.S. Catholics, it raises similar questions about the theological and ethical content of religious freedom for churches and religiously affiliated organizations.

Catholic legal scholars Richard Garnett (University of Notre Dame) and Gregory Kalscheur, S.J. (Boston College) provided perspective on this tension during a Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life event in November 2012.  Garnett argued that churches and other religious organizations possess the freedom to organize, govern, and direct themselves in accord with their own teachings.  While religion is an individual experience, religious communities are not merely an aggregation of individuals; these communities represent traditions of shared beliefs. As the right of religious freedom in constitutional law, “church autonomy”–what John Courtney Murray called “the Freedom of the Church”–protects them. Kalscheur argued that liturgies and ordination policies are “uniquely religious” activities beyond the boundaries of civil authority. Therefore, when religious institutions embody their religious mission through temporal and social service activities, they are engaged in activity that the civil authority may have the jurisdiction to regulate; this public service and advocacy is not “uniquely religious” despite ministry outreach to unauthorized residents and not necessarily exempt from civil demands contrary to their beliefs.

For Kalscheur, while churches and religiously affiliated institutions may be called to embody their mission through public ministry, they are called also to cooperate with state laws and regulations in order to protect civil order and foster the common good. For Garnett, government may enact laws that compromise the fundamental public mission of the church.  In the immigration case, Alabama asks the Church to participate in the anti-Christian activity that compromises a fundamental ministry as expressed in Matthew 25: care for those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, and imprisoned. Alabama’s law pushes undocumented immigrants–some of the most economically, socially, and politically vulnerable–farther into the shadows of society, jeopardizing the life and dignity of individuals, their families, and communities. Catholic institutions ought not abide by this unjust law, rather the Church should vigorously advocate its repeal and resist it through acts of civil disobedience.

This case helps us to think about other conflicts between law and religious freedom, including HHS Mandate:  it demonstrates significant tensions between church autonomy and civil law; illustrates the importance of Church cooperation with civil authority to protect order, justice, and the common good; and acknowledges that some laws fundamentally conflict with the public ministry of the Church. The Church must respond in a way that protects the integrity of our pastoral work and prophetic witness in the world.

Essay also published on: 
Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church Forum
Millennial Journal 


Posted by: Nichole M. Flores | November 1, 2012

Race and Polarization in the U.S. Church and Public Life

Posted by: Nichole M. Flores | September 21, 2012

Jesuits Take the Field

Jesuits Celebrate Mass

Boston College Jesuits concelebrate the Mass of the Holy Spirit

Walking through Fenway Park’s E Gate from Lansdowne Street, I am overwhelmed by the sight of priests, Catholic priests.  A parade of Catholic priests, primarily Jesuits, each dressed in a white alb and stole. Some smile warmly.  Some fidget with their iPhones.  Others stare off into the distance.  They are all preparing to concelebrate the Mass of the Holy Spirit in honor of the beginning of the academic year at Boston College and Boston College High School and the sesquicentennial celebration of the founding of these institutions.

The Jesuits of Boston College came together yesterday to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the elite Catholic university.

It’s not as if I never see priests or even a lot of priests at one time.  As a doctoral candidate in the Theology Department at Boston College, I have spent the past several years in daily contact with Jesuits from around the world; I know a lot of Jesuits.  It’s just that I have never seen them all vested for Mass processing through the splashy halls of Major League Baseball’s cathedral.  As I progress through the concourse, I exchange hearty greetings with Jesuit friends from almost every continent. I wave to one of my Jesuit teachers standing at the front of the line, but when I am out of earshot, I can’t resist the urge to giggle.

The image of a cadre of vested concelebrants processing through Fenway discloses a basic reality of discipleship: Christians have a way of standing out in a crowd.  Sadly, Christianity does not always stand out for the right reasons. The failures of the clergy and laity are well known to the public.  Sinners that we are, none of us embody this witness perfectly.  It is through God’s unyielding grace that we are called to love God and neighbor as ourselves. In a cultural context that prizes individual success, often without regard for justice, the sight of someone practicing love of God and neighbor sticks out like, well, a bunch of Jesuits processing through Fenway Park. While most of us are not walking through ballparks in collars and habits, if we are living out our baptismal call, chances are some of the other humans are taking notice.

Why is it that Christians are often identifiable in the world?  It is not because we are better leaders, thinkers, teachers, or community servants than others.  Nor are we less sinful or more ethical people generally.  I speculate that it is because, at our best, our actions answer a fundamental question posed by Jesus to his followers and reiterated by Fr. Michael Himes to the congregants at the Fenway Mass: “Who do you say that I am?” At out best, our actions say something about who Jesus is. If our way of being in the world is one characterized by faith, hope, and love, given as gifts of grace for the benefit of all of God’s creation, then we are bound to stand out from the crowd as embodied witnesses to Jesus’ life saving love. We will preach, pray, teach, learn, give, and receive for God’s glory and not our own.  We will direct every human action to the good of Christ’s saving mission. Our diverse ways of serving will be united by their common testimony to God’s love for all of creation, giving disciples a look of those in the world but not of it.

As the Jesuits took the field, the aesthetic awkwardness of this event transformed into a beautiful celebration of the Lord’s Supper, gesturing to God’s abiding presence in all things. As I exited Fenway to Yawkey Way after the final blessing, I could hear the resounding tones of “Now Thank We All Our God” booming from within the park.  The paradox of this rousing Christian hymn flowing from this temple of professional baseball brought a wide smile to my face that I shared with every person who passed by.  Some smiled back and others just looked at me like I was a little crazy, but then smiled back.  That’s okay, though. Christ’s love has a way of sticking out in a crowd.

This essay is also posted on the Millennial Journal, a project of the Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

Posted by: Nichole M. Flores | September 11, 2011

10 years after 9/11: A Reflection

My experience of 11 September 2001, like so many others, begins with a memory of that gorgeous September morning.  It was the beginning of my Sophomore year at Smith College in Northampton, MA.  After my morning French class, I strolled from Hatfield Hall to the Hellen Hills Hills Chapel, breathing in the cool morning air, marveling at the brilliance of the azure sky.  The serenity of my morning was shattered by the news delivered to me by my stunned friends working at the chapel:  ”A plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.”  At first I thought they were joking, then I thought they were exaggerating the severity of the crash.  It wasn’t until I saw the black smoke billowing from the crater left by American Airlines Flight 11 that my mind was able to register what was probably happening.  But even then, I just couldn’t have imagined the extent of the violence and loss of human life that day, or in the many years to follow.

The rest of the day was a blur.  I remember watching the towers fall to the ground in the company of native New Yorkers, whose absolute disbelief and sadness resonates with me to this day.  I remember my friends frantically trying to account for family and friends working in or near the buildings.  I remember trying to call my mother, but the phone lines at Smith College were overloaded with calls to and from loved ones, everyone looking for stability in the midst of chaos.  I remember the immediate grounding of all air transportation.  I remember wondering how I would get home to my family in Colorado.  I wept, longing to be with my family during this frightening time.  I wept, thinking of all the people who had lost members of their own families that terrible day.

The next day, Government Professor Donald Baumer started our Politics and Public Policy class with a somewhat self-evident statement: “Everything has Changed.”  Indeed, many things had or eventually did change.  But, from where I stood, some things sadly and unfortunately remained the same.  The anti-Muslim rhetoric, discrimination, and violence that ensued was disgustingly predictable.  The visceral fear that engulfed the act of traveling reflected our national apprehension about security in general.  The subsequent violence of years of war was also not a surprise.  War is a national habit, our response in the face of threat, our knee-jerk reaction to hatred and violence.  What else could we have expected from national leaders in this instance?  Everything had changed, but nothing had changed.

In the days after the attacks, a Christian friend of mine dared to ask a ridiculous question, “What if we were to hang a banner over our shores that reads, ‘WE FORGIVE YOU!’”  As a young political scientist, I scoffed at her suggestion, citing the obviously complex questions of national security, protection of innocents, and the threat of terror in allied countries.  But, ten years later, I find myself revisiting her suggestion.  How would the world have been different if we would have followed a Jesus ethic of resistance?  What if we had not gone to war (even if many thoughtful and earnest Christians have defended this course of action in various iterations of just war theory)?  What if we would have draped our shores in love and forgiveness? Were these ideas so fantastic that they ought not impact the delicate political equations at play?  Or were they just crazy enough to change things, even if only to hold our nation back from the brink of bitterness that has, in so many ways, consumed us?  Would our present-day national discourse be any better if our response to this particular trial had not been anger and revenge, but steadfast resistance rooted in charitable love?

These thoughts are all very “airy.”  These questions are admittedly counterfactual and rooted in the fairly unsystematic ruminations of a Christian believer and U.S. Citizen who is emotionally raw from weeping all morning in remembrance of the heartbreaking violence perpetrated in her country that day.  But in the blur of tears and memories, I find my imagination wandering to places that it could not have gone that day.  I want to imagine a world where, truly, “Everything has Changed.”  And I wonder how we could change the world if, through God’s unyielding grace, we could just change.

Posted by: Nichole M. Flores | August 24, 2011

A Couple of Thoughts on The Help

Poster for The Help

The Help

Bloggers are well aware of the firestorm of praise and critique of the The Help.  In a glowing review of the movie as a personally transformative event, one blogger writes, “shame on you if you don’t cry.”  Contrarily, J. Kameron Carter argues: “It Ain’t About Black Women – It’s About White Women,” a position that others have supported by pointing out that the movie is the white character Skeeter’s “coming of age story,” in which the black characters, Aibileen and Minny, serve as tributaries to her conversion of conscience and praxis. Others, including Rosetta E. Ross of Spelman College’s Religious Studies Department, are boycotting the movie as a protest against the use, once again, of black women in the advancement of white womanhood.

I saw the film this past Friday, so I have had a couple of days to mull it over.  I am on the fence between life-changing come-to-Jesus moment and yet another example of the subordination of the black experience to white fulfillment.  Honestly, I think the film is a little from column A, a litte from column B.  I would like to offer a couple of insights:

  • This film ought not make anyone “feel good” about “how far we’ve come.”  The condition of racially, socially, and economically marginalized workers today is strong evidence that we have not come very far at all.  Aibileen and Minny are still working among us, toiling in homes, agricultural fields, hotels, and restaurant kitchens.  Indeed, there are thousands of workers who are still enslaved and forced to work against their will and without pay in the United States and throughout the world.  Our global economy is fueled by this kind of economic exploitation. Fictional Skeeter may have found her voice, but our racial history leaves us with few reasons to celebrate.
  • I would also like to address the claim that the narrative is about white womanhood.  Skeeter is clearly the narratival and experiential center of the film, the young woman who discovers the spirit of resistance in the midst of the mid-20th-century white power structure (although, to be fair, the realization that black women are people, too, is not radical).   But Aibileen and Minny are clearly main characters, as well.  Aibileen narrates the film, and through the subtleties of the story, emerges as the source of strength, wisdom, and perseverance for the entire community.  She is not a passive character, but the agent of transformation for Skeeter, Minny, and the other women who share their stories in the book.  For Minny’s part, her experience of voicing her narrative gives her the strength to resist her husband’s abuse, tapping into the pluck that drove her to resist her boss through, one could say, creative measures.  Her story in the film ends with her being served, for just one meal, by her white employers who seem to recognize Minny’s humanity.  Rather than framing the story in terms of a zero-sum game in which only the white women or the black women are the subject, I interpreted the film as a story of an encounter between these women, which ultimately transforms them all and, even if tentatively and minutely, transforms their social reality.  That being said, the film certainly pays less attention to the nuances of Black womanhood than white womanhood, which is certainly worthy of critique.
  • Finally, I would encourage anyone who is able to watch and engage the film.  I do not blame professor Ross for boycotting, as the content of the film is certainly upsetting if engaged below the shiny veneer of structured dresses, scrumptious food, and race redemption.  At the same time, it is difficult (if not impossible) to effectively critique cultural material that one has not actually engaged.  This movie has the capacity to prick our consciences.  Despite the boisterous laughter among the primarily white audience with which I watched the film, I do not think it was very funny.  In my analysis, the film is best approached with sobriety, attentiveness, and humility that acknowledges our ongoing societal participation in racial, social, and economic injustice, with an awareness of the absolute necessity of our cooperation with God’s grace to continue work towards the good.
Posted by: Nichole M. Flores | August 22, 2011

Murray: What Truths Do We Hold in the 21st Century United States?

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