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Valerie Elverton-Dixon
Valerie Elverton-Dixon
Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar studying ethics, peace theory, public discourse, and the civil rights movement.



The Idea of America

Aug13

by: on August 13th, 2012 | 11 Comments »

When Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States, announced Representative Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate, Ryan said that America was an idea. He spoke of the idea that human rights derive from God and from nature and not from government. Whether or not human rights ought to be grounded in natural law is a discussion for another day. For now, let us think about the opposition Ryan asserts between God and nature on one hand and government on the other.

His remarks intimate that government is some tyrannical bogey man out to debilitate righteous free enterprise, binding it with red tape and stealing our liberties and our hard-earned money through taxes. He seems to think that big government equals a reduction of our human rights. This is a distortion of the idea of America.

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Revolutionary Elections and Revolutionary Acts

Jul5

by: on July 5th, 2012 | 10 Comments »

We do not talk much about human rights in our current public discourse. We reference them when we are scolding some murderous oppressive dictator, but we rarely speak about them when speaking about our own policy goals. Speaking about human rights is a revolutionary act, and far too many politicians and pundits shy away from revolutionary ideas because such ideas threaten the status quo.

I say: Let the next election be a revolutionary election. Our struggle for a progressive political agenda is a revolutionary act.

When people start to understand that there are certain rights that are due to people because they are human, the next step is to demand those rights. Governments exist to secure human rights, and when they do not, they ought to be altered or abolished. Thomas Jefferson said this eloquently in the Declaration of Independence. It is a document that not only belongs to the history of the United States; it is a document that belongs to all of humankind. Jefferson writes:

“Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Thus, it is our duty – the duty of the electorate – to put human rights front and center in the public debate and change our governing ideologies through the ballot.

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Congress Reaps What it Sows

Jun20

by: on June 20th, 2012 | Comments Off

In his book, “Don’t Ask What Good We Do”, Robert Draper describes a dinner meeting of a group of Republicans on the night of President Obama’s inauguration. The group decided they would not cooperate with President Obama, that they would do everything in their power to obstruct his agenda for the country. They would attack Democrats in the media at every turn in order to take back the Congress in 2010 and the White House in 2012.

According to Draper, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan, Pete Sessions, Jeb Hensarling, Pete Hoekstra, and Dan Lungren from the House of Representatives and Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl, Tom Coburn, John Ensign and Bob Corker from the Senate attended the dinner. Newt Gingrich also attended the dinner hosted by Frank Luntz.

This is no surprise to those of us who have been paying attention to national politics since 2008. While 50 million people in this country live without health insurance, while people die daily unnecessarily because they do not have access to quality health care, we watched Republicans stand united against President Obama’s efforts to pass a universal health care law.

The Affordable Care Act is modeled on Republican ideas, not the Medicare for all system that liberal/progressive such as myself want. Yet Republicans bear false witness against it and call it a government take-over of health care. They won back the House of Representatives in 2010 with falsehoods regarding changes in Medicare.

Further, with the United States and the world suffering one of the worst economic contractions since the Great Depression, with millions of people out of work, Republicans stand united against economic stimulus, against sending more money to state and local governments to keep teachers, police officers and fire-fighters working, against a jobs bill that would put Americans to work rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

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When God Does a New Thing

May23

by: on May 23rd, 2012 | 2 Comments »

When the living God sends new mercies, when God is ready to do a new thing, it is important that we do not stand as an obstruction because to do so separates us not only from our sisters and brothers, but it separates us from God.

In the current discussion about LGBTQIA rights in general and same-sex marriage in particular, the questions for believers are: what is God doing? What does God require of me? I am a Bible-believing Baptist. I say: God said it. I believe it. That settles it. It is my reading of the Bible that leads me to support equal rights and respect of LGBTQIA people and their loving committed relationships. I have addressed the primary biblical texts that most people quote to support their opposition to Gay rights in an essay published on-line at the African-American Lectionary: Why I Believe Homosexuality is NOT a Sin

However, the reason I support LGBTQIA rights has to do with my understanding that to love, serve and worship God through a commitment to follow Jesus means that I love with an imperative to love with a radical love. Such love requires me to be wary of traps that would have me love the tradition and its laws rather than to love God with all my heart, mind and soul and my neighbor as myself.

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President Obama’s Just Peace End to the War in Afghanistan

May2

by: on May 2nd, 2012 | 1 Comment »

I say and say again that President Obama is a just peace president.

Peace people, including myself, have a list of complaints against this president, including the use of targeted drone assassinations of American citizens without due process of law. However, I still say that, for the most part, this president’s foreign policies reflect just peace theory.

Many people are familiar with just war theory. This thinking dates back millennia, and we can find it in both religious and in secular philosophical traditions. There was a moment in human history when it was the middle way between crusades, or total annihilation of populations and pacifism. Today, since total war is no longer considered moral, just war is the extreme position and just peace theory is the middle way between just war and pacifism.

While just war theory thinks about when it is right to resort to war – jus ad bellum; the righteous way to fight war – jus in bello; and the moral way to end war – jus post bellum, just peace theory thinks about how to prevent the moment of crisis that makes violent conflict thinkable or even necessary. Just peace theory also considers ways to reach a positive peace after violent conflict, a peace where combatants no long want to fight each other. Just peace theory sometimes intersects with both pacifism and with just war theory.

In his remarks on Afghanistan, President Obama indicated a just peace approach that intersects with jus post bellum. My interpretation of just peace theory relies on three pillars – truth, respect and security. In his statements earlier in the day to the American warriors, President Obama told them the truth that there are still very difficult days ahead where some will be wounded. Some will die. In his remarks to the nation, he outlined efforts that will help secure Afghanistan, and will work toward building a strong civil society with democratic institutions that will respect human dignity and human rights.

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Ann Romney’s Work Choices Miss the Point

Apr13

by: on April 13th, 2012 | 6 Comments »

The flash controversy sparked by comments made by Democratic strategist Hillary Rosen saying that presumptive Republican nominees for President Mitt Romney’s reliance on his wife’s reports regarding women and the economy were meaningless because Ann Romney had never worked “a day in her life” has taken us back to an old discussion that in my opinion misses the point.

I must confess that it took me a long time to warm to feminism, especially to the writings of Betty Friedan and the ideas of the “Feminine Mystique” that argued for women leaving the ennui of a suburban housewife’s life to employ her mind and talents in the paid workforce. I was the first generation of women in my family who had a choice about whether or not to work outside of the home. My mother was a school teacher; my grandmother was a cook in white homes in the south; and my great-grandmother was a share cropper. Her foremothers were slaves.

I also did not warm immediately to this idea because my question was then as it is now: what about the rights of the women who will do the housework and raise the children while women are working outside the home?

I have been a married stay at home mom. I have been a married work outside the home mom. I have been a single work outside the home mom. And, in every instance, my family and I needed help. We depended upon community. Hillary Rosen told the truth when she pointed out that Ann Romney may not be the best source of information on the economic difficulties that most women in this society face. I have no doubt that Ann Romney has household help. I do not picture her dusting the inside of the car elevator in the Romney’s house. My questions: Is the household staff paid a decent wage? Do they receive benefits such as social security and health care? How much vacation time do they receive?

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Rush Limbaugh, Verbal Abuse, and Objective Violence against Women

Mar8

by: on March 8th, 2012 | Comments Off

When radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” who ought to post sex videos on-line, he not only revealed his own crass, crude ignorance, but he committed acts of verbal abuse. His comments were a kind of violence against women.

Violence is a violation. It is a hurtful demonstration of a basic lack of respect. Those of us who are concerned about intimate violence, violence in personal relationships, tell our sisters and brothers to walk away from a partner the moment they call you out of your name. Verbal abuse is often prelude to physical abuse. If a person will call you a “slut”, s/he will hit you, and if a person will hit you, s/he will kill you. Such relationships are not only toxic, they are tragic.

In his book “Violence”, philosopher Slavoj ZiZek describes subjective and objective violence. Subjective violence is “violence performed by a clearly identifiable agent” (1). Objective violence is that which is symbolic and systemic. Symbolic violence is the violence embedded in language, and systemic violence– a.k.a. structural violence – is the various violations of human dignity that are embedded in our political-economy.

According to Zizek, subjective violence “is experienced as such against the background of the ‘normal’ peaceful state of things. However, objective violence is precisely the violence inherent in this ‘normal’ peaceful state of things” (2). Rush Limbaugh’s comments calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” were “irrational explosions of subjective violence” that become all too rational when they are seen to spring from the ground of objective symbolic violence that allows it.

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A Clash of Rights: The Catholic Bishops and Contraception

Feb17

by: on February 17th, 2012 | 5 Comments »

While working on the introduction to a book I intend to publish in the next few months, I am reading “Radical Love: Forever Changed” by Donna Lowe and Kimberly Parker. In the introduction to part three, Lowe and Parker write about how little things from our past – a certain sound, a television program – may cause us to relive painful emotions. The point they make is that we ought to be intentional about not allowing ourselves to become trapped in those responses. This is the purpose of spiritual disciplines. This is the work of radical love.

The debate about the clash of rights around the Obama administration’s decision to require employers to provide health insurance coverage for contraception – even some Catholic institutions– has taken me to such a painful place.

President Obama announced an adjustment to the policy that no longer requires religious institutions to provide such coverage, rather the mandate shifts to insurance companies. This accommodation has satisfied some Catholic organizations, but the Catholic Bishops remain dissatisfied. However, the discourse around this issue is still painful.

When I was a little girl, I saw ugly, angry, violent images of people in the south claiming that the push to end apartheid in America was a violation of their rights –states’ rights, free association rights, property rights. However, the civil rights movement was about making sure that every citizen in the nation enjoyed equal protection under the law.

When my children were children, we watched this battle told in documentary form in the series “Eyes on the Prize.” As a seminary professor, I used this series as a resource in my class on the civil rights movement. This class included the conservative reaction to the movement, including anti-abortion demonstrations. Over the years as I have watched the “culture wars’ in the United States, I have often thought that religious people wanted to use the government to advance their religious agenda.

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Windows into Transcendence: Lightning and Sophia in “Red Tails”

Feb14

by: on February 14th, 2012 | 2 Comments »

In the movie “Red Tails”, the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, we see how religious icons serve as “windows into the Kingdom of God.” The images that the fighter pilots take into combat with them help them to see a kind of divine transcendence that gives their lives meaning. The icons help them to come closer to God.

One of the major characters in the movie is the skilled, fearless, self-confident, improvisational and independent-minded pilot nicknamed “Lightning.” He is a womanizer who falls in love at first sight with an Italian woman named Sophia. He tells his friend, Easy, who is also the leader of the squad: “I spotted something. I just saw a goddess who is going to bear my beautiful children.”

His love for Sophia becomes his transcendence. In a conversation with the squad members, his belief system contrasts with that of Deacon, a pilot who worships Black Jesus and credits him with the protection and success of the squad. Lightning says there is “no sanctified mojo running the world. Things are as they are.”

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The Imperatives of Whitney Houston

Feb13

by: on February 13th, 2012 | 7 Comments »

I still sometimes dance in the car while waiting at a red light. However, back in the day, when I had less sense than I have now, I would throw the car in park, jump out and dance in the street. When Whitney Houston sang “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”, the joy, the exuberance, the hope, the possibility was too much to contain inside the car. The imperative: turn the volume up, put the car in park, jump out and dance. Celebrate life.

When she sang the “Star Spangled Banner” at a Super Bowl, this unashamed, unapologetic peacenik who at the time was completely disgusted by the first Iraq War, who then and now is suspicious of cheap, political patriotism, who hates with a perfect hatred the flag-waving jingoistic aspects of war – any war – got goose bumps. Her voice reverberated across the globe. My children and I stood up in the living room and cheered. To paraphrase Marvin Gaye: she made me want to holler and throw up both my hands. Peace theory IS patriotism. I was reminded of my patriotic duty.

Then, when we went to see “The Preacher’s Wife”, the movie with Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington, the entire sound track, especially her rendering of “Joy to the World” compelled us to go to the record store when the movie was over. The imperative: go to the music store. Go directly to the music store. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

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