Summary of today’s show: As we close in on Election Day, we celebrate our 400th episode by beginning in earnest our formation as Catholics in the public square. Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor continue looking at the 1998 document from the US bishops called “Living the Gospel of Life”, which Archbishop Charles Chaput calls “the best tool anywhere for understanding the American Catholic political vocation”. Scot and Fr. Chris consider the second part of the document, which includes calls to specific groups of Catholics to recognize the hierarchy of rights that puts the right to life and the dignity of all human life first and foremost.
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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor
- “Living The Gospel Of Life: A Challenge To American Catholics”, A statement by the Catholic bishops of the United States
- Program #0400 for Monday, October 22, 2012: Living the Gospel of Life: Part 1
- “Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life”, Archbishop Charles Chaput
Today’s topics: Living the Gospel of Life: Part 2
1st segment: Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor talked about their weekend. Fr. Chris said he was called out to perform an anointing for a man who was dying of cancer. He was struck by the fact that this was dying with dignity, to be surrounded by loved ones and cared for by medical professionals who also cared for the family. Fr. Chris said he preached on the subject of dying with dignity and Question 2. He said it’s a tough subject to talk about in the presence of so many children, but he though that the more culture turns in on itself and gets twisted. He doesn’t want to offend the sensibility of the little ones while edifying the adults. Many people said they hadn’t heard of the assisted suicide question or misunderstood it. He pointed out that it’s not physician-assisted suicide because the physician doesn’t provide any assistance except to write a prescription. Scot said the doctor is not present when the fatal prescription is ingested. In many ways, it’s dying alone.
He said yesterday the Boston Herald, Worcester Telegram and Gazette joined The New Bedford Standard-Times in opposing Question 2. Fr. Chris said it makes sense to him why even doctors and nurses oppose this bill after seeing the doctors and nurses caring for the dying over the weekend.
Today’s topic is the second part of a two-part series discussing the US bishops’ 1998 document “Living the Gospel of Life.” Scot reminded listeners he’d never heard of this document until reading Archbishop Chaput’s book “Render Unto Caesar” over the weekend. We start with Section 3, Paragraph 16.
- This does not make America sectarian. It does, however, underline the crucial role God’s sovereignty has played in the architecture of American politics. While the founders were a blend of Enlightenment rationalists and traditional Christians, generations of Jews, Muslims, other religious groups and non-believers have all found a home in the United States. This is so because the tolerance of our system is rooted in the Jewish-Christian principle that even those who differ from one another in culture, appearance and faith still share the same rights. We believe that this principle still possesses the power to enlighten our national will.
- The Second Vatican Council, in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), praises those women and men who have a vocation to public office. It encourages active citizenship. It also reminds us that, “The political community … exists for the common good: This is its full justification and meaning, and the source of its specific and basic right to exist. The common good embraces all those conditions of social life which enable individuals, families and organizations to achieve complete and efficacious fulfillment” (74). In pursuing the common good, citizens should “cultivate a generous and loyal spirit of patriotism, but without narrow-mindedness … [they must also] be conscious of their specific and proper role in the political community: They should be a shining example by their sense of responsibility and their dedication to the common good …” (75).
- As to the role of the Church in this process: “… The political community and the Church are autonomous and independent of each other in their own fields. Nevertheless, both are devoted to the personal vocation of man, though under different titles … [yet] at all times and in all places, the Church should have the true freedom to teach the faith, to proclaim its teaching about society, to carry out its task among men without hindrance, and to pass moral judgment even in matters relating to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it” (76; emphasis added).
- Pope John Paul II elaborates on this responsibility in his 1988 apostolic exhortation, The Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World (Christifideles Laici): “The inviolability of the person, which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, finds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights — for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture — is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition of all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination … The human being is entitled to such rights in every phase of development, from conception until natural death, whether healthy or sick, whole or handicapped, rich or poor … [Moreover, if,] indeed, everyone has the mission and responsibility of acknowledging the personal dignity of every human being and of defending the right to life, some lay faithful are given particular title to this task: such as parents, teachers, healthworkers and the many who hold economic and political power” (38).
- We believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a “Gospel of life.” It invites all persons and societies to a new life lived abundantly in respect for human dignity. We believe that this Gospel is not only a complement to American political principles, but also the cure for the spiritual sickness now infecting our society. As Scripture says, no house can stand divided against itself (Lk 11:17). We cannot simultaneously commit ourselves to human rights and progress while eliminating or marginalizing the weakest among us. Nor can we practice the Gospel of life only as a private piety. American Catholics must live it vigorously and publicly, as a matter of national leadership and witness, or we will not live it at all.
Scot said it is the role of the Church to speak up when the rights of man require it. The Church isn’t asking for theocracy, but we have a right to be heard and contribute to social discourse on various issues. If we make ourselves silent, then a huge voice for good is silenced. Fr. Chris said the Church is one of the only prophetic voices left in our society. The Church serves every man, women, and child and the common good. The Church has a right to speak and to invite men and women of good conscience who wants to join the cause. The Church teaches the truth and when people hear the truth, they are attracted to it.
Scot said #19 is one of the best in the document. It talks about the call of everyone and that of particular people who have a particular task in proclaiming the right to life, especially anyone who leads other people. Fr. Chris said if you want to know the health of a culture, see how it takes care of its marginalized. There’s a hierarchy of rights that the right to life presumes the other rights. I have to have a right o life in order to be free, to pursue liberty and happiness. When we go into the voting booth we have to take that into consideration.
Scot said in #20, we can’t live the Gospel of life privately. We can’t say our faith is only meant for our home or in church. We have to live it in the public square. Fr. Chris said this counters the formulation “I’m personally opposed but I can’t impose my beliefs on others.” Abortion is intrinsically evil and we are called to protect the unborn, the weak, the suicidal and sick when we enter the voting booth.
“It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop.”
Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life
- Bringing a respect for human dignity to practical politics can be a daunting task. There is such a wide spectrum of issues involving the protection of human life and the promotion of human dignity. Good people frequently disagree on which problems to address, which policies to adopt and how best to apply them. But for citizens and elected officials alike, the basic principle is simple: We must begin with a commitment never to intentionally kill, or collude in the killing, of any innocent human life, no matter how broken, unformed, disabled or desperate that life may seem. In other words, the choice of certain ways of acting is always and radically incompatible with the love of God and the dignity of the human person created in His image. Direct abortion is never a morally tolerable option. It is always a grave act of violence against a woman and her unborn child. This is so even when a woman does not see the truth because of the pressures she may be subjected to, often by the child’s father, her parents or friends. Similarly, euthanasia and assisted suicide are never acceptable acts of mercy. They always gravely exploit the suffering and desperate, extinguishing life in the name of the “quality of life” itself. This same teaching against direct killing of the innocent condemns all direct attacks on innocent civilians in time of war.
- Pope John Paul II has reminded us that we must respect every life, even that of criminals and unjust aggressors. It is increasingly clear in modern society that capital punishment is unnecessary to protect people’s safety and the public order, so that cases where it may be justified are “very rare, if not practically non-existent.” No matter how serious the crime, punishment that does not take life is “more in conformity with the dignity of the human person” (Evangelium Vitae, 56-7). Our witness to respect for life shines most brightly when we demand respect for each and every human life, including the lives of those who fail to show that respect for others. The antidote to violence is love, not more violence.
- As we stressed in our 1995 statement Political Responsibility: “The application of Gospel values to real situations is an essential work of the Christian community.” Adopting a consistent ethic of life, the Catholic Church promotes a broad spectrum of issues “seeking to protect human life and promote human dignity from the inception of life to its final moment.”9 Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. Any politics of human life must work to resist the violence of war and the scandal of capital punishment. Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care. Therefore, Catholics should eagerly involve themselves as advocates for the weak and marginalized in all these areas. Catholic public officials are obliged to address each of these issues as they seek to build consistent policies which promote respect for the human person at all stages of life. But being ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the ‘rightness’ of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community. If we understand the human person as the “temple of the Holy Spirit” — the living house of God — then these latter issues fall logically into place as the crossbeams and walls of that house. All direct attacks on innocent human life, such as abortion and euthanasia, strike at the house’s foundation. These directly and immediately violate the human person’s most fundamental right — the right to life. Neglect of these issues is the equivalent of building our house on sand. Such attacks cannot help but lull the social conscience in ways ultimately destructive of other human rights. As Pope John Paul II reminds us, the command never to kill establishes a minimum which we must respect and from which we must start out “in order to say ‘yes’ over and over again, a ‘yes’ which will gradually embrace the entire horizon of the good” (Evangelium Vitae, 75).
- Since the entry of Catholics into the U.S. political mainstream, believers have struggled to balance their faith with the perceived demands of democratic pluralism. As a result, some Catholic elected officials have adopted the argument that, while they personally oppose evils like abortion, they cannot force their religious views onto the wider society. This is seriously mistaken on several key counts. First, regarding abortion, the point when human life begins is not a religious belief but a scientific fact — a fact on which there is clear agreement even among leading abortion advocates. Second, the sanctity of human life is not merely Catholic doctrine but part of humanity’s global ethical heritage, and our nation’s founding principle. Finally, democracy is not served by silence. Most Americans would recognize the contradiction in the statement, “While I am personally opposed to slavery or racism or sexism I cannot force my personal view on the rest of society.” Real pluralism depends on people of conviction struggling vigorously to advance their beliefs by every ethical and legal means at their disposal.
- Today, Catholics risk cooperating in a false pluralism. Secular society will allow believers to have whatever moral convictions they please — as long as they keep them on the private preserves of their consciences, in their homes and churches, and out of the public arena. Democracy is not a substitute for morality, nor a panacea for immorality. Its value stands — or falls — with the values which it embodies and promotes. Only tireless promotion of the truth about the human person can infuse democracy with the right values. This is what Jesus meant when He asked us to be leaven in society. American Catholics have long sought to assimilate into U.S. cultural life. But in assimilating, we have too often been digested. We have been changed by our culture too much, and we have changed it not enough. If we are leaven, we must bring to our culture the whole Gospel, which is a Gospel of life and joy. That is our vocation as believers. And there is no better place to start than promoting the beauty and sanctity of human life. Those who would claim to promote the cause of life through violence or the threat of violence contradict this Gospel at its core.
- Scripture calls us to “be doers of the word and not hearers only … [for] faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (Jas 1:22, 2:17). Jesus Himself directs us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you …” (Mt 28:19-20). Life in Christ is a life of active witness. It demands moral leadership. Each and every person baptized in the truth of the Catholic faith is a member of the “people of life” sent by God to evangelize the world.
- God is always ready to answer our prayers for help with the virtues we need to do His will. First and foremost we need the courage and the honesty to speak the truth about human life, no matter how high the cost to ourselves. The great lie of our age is that we are powerless in the face of the compromises, structures and temptations of mass culture. But we are not powerless. We can make a difference. We belong to the Lord, in Him is our strength, and through His grace, we can change the world. We also need the humility to listen well to both friend and opponent on the abortion issue, learning from each and forgetting ourselves. We need the perseverance to continue the struggle for the protection of human life, no matter what the setbacks, trusting in God and in the ultimate fruitfulness of the task He has called us to. We need the prudence to know when and how to act in the public arena — and also to recognize and dismiss that fear of acting which postures as prudence itself. And finally we need the great foundation of every apostolic life: faith, hope and charity. Faith not in moral or political abstractions, but in the personal presence of God; hope not in our own ingenuity, but in His goodness and mercy; and love for others, including those who oppose us, rooted in the love God showers down on us.
- These virtues, like the Gospel of Life which they help animate, have serious implications for every Christian involved in any way in the public life of the nation.
Scot said in #23, as they listed various forms of standing up for life and violations of human rights, they said being in right in many areas can never excuse being wrong about direct attacks on human life. Advocating against direct attacks comes first if we want to advocate against indirect attacks. Fr. Chris said it’s the false premise of proportionalism. We can’t say that we will save 99 lives and let one die. Every life is so sacred and valuable that we can’t directly cause the taking of a life.
The bishops say it’s seriously mistaken to say it’s not a human life and that the sanctity of human life is not just a Catholic idea. Also, democracy isn’t served by silence. We can’t mute ourselves on this. Scot said abortion continues in this country because too many of us have not stood up to defend life in the womb.
Scot said people deserve to hear why we believe what we believe. Everybody needs to hear us in the public square, whether we are successful or not. If God moves their hearts, all the better; if not, we’re better for sharing our faith. Fr. Chris said our Constitution provides for us to speak about religiously defined beliefs in the public square. Scot said we only hear about separation of church and state, it’s only from people who disagree with us. When we talk about serving the poor, no one tries to shout us down. Fr. Chris said these discussions should not become vicious and brutal, but rather should be based on mutuality and respect for the other, in the hopes that truth will surface.
In #25, the bishops discuss the long battle to be assimilated into American life, but that desire for assimilation has often resulted in Catholics being changed too much by the culture than vice versa. Fr. Chris said we are called to based our decisions on our faith and one science and reason. They discussed recent formulations of the opposing approaches by Catholic politicians. The bishops in #27 talk about the virtues we need.
Scot and Fr. Chris skipped over #29 and #30 which address bishops, priests, religious, catechists, teachers, and theologians.
- As bishops, we have the responsibility to call Americans to conversion, including political leaders, and especially those publicly identified as Catholic. As the Holy Father reminds us in The Splendor of the Truth (Veritatis Splendor): “… [It] is part of our pastoral ministry to see to it that [the Church’s] moral teaching is faithfully handed down, and to have recourse to appropriate measures to ensure that the faithful are guarded from every doctrine and theory contrary to it” (116). As chief teachers in the Church, we must therefore explain, persuade, correct and admonish those in leadership positions who contradict the Gospel of life through their actions and policies. Catholic public officials who disregard Church teaching on the inviolability of the human person indirectly collude in the taking of innocent life. A private call to conversion should always be the first step in dealing with these leaders. Through prayer, through patiently speaking the truth in love, and by the witness of our lives, we must strive always to open their hearts to the God-given dignity of the unborn and of all vulnerable persons. So also we must remind these leaders of their duty to exercise genuine moral leadership in society. They do this not by unthinking adherence to public opinion polls or by repeating empty pro-choice slogans, but by educating and sensitizing themselves and their constituents to the humanity of the unborn child. At the same time we need to redouble our efforts to evangelize and catechize our people on the dignity of life and the wrongness of abortion. Nonetheless, some Catholic officials may exclude themselves from the truth by refusing to open their minds to the Church’s witness. In all cases, bishops have the duty and pastoral responsibility to continue to challenge those officials on the issue in question and persistently call them to a change of heart. As bishops we reflect particularly on the words of the Office of Readings:
Let us be neither dogs that do not bark nor silent onlookers nor paid servants who run away before the wolf. Instead, let us be careful shepherds watching over Christ’s flock. Let us preach the whole of God’s plan to the powerful and the humble, to rich and to poor, to men of every rank and age, as far as God gives us the strength, in season and out of season, as St. Gregory writes in his book of Pastoral Instruction.10
- Priests, religious, catechists, Catholic school teachers, family life ministers and theologians all share, each in their appropriate way, in the Church’s task of forming the Catholic faithful in a reverence for the sanctity of life. We call them to a renewed commitment to that task. In their words and example, they should witness loyally and joyfully to the truth that every human life, at every stage of development, is a gift from God. Physicians, nurses and healthcare workers can touch the lives of women and girls who may be considering abortion with practical assistance, counseling and adoption alternatives. Equally important, they should be conscious evangelizers of their own professions, witnessing by word and example that God is the Lord of life.
- Catholics who are privileged to serve in public leadership positions have an obligation to place their faith at the heart of their public service, particularly on issues regarding the sanctity and dignity of human life. Thomas More, the former chancellor of England who preferred to give his life rather than betray his Catholic convictions, went to his execution with the words, “I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” In the United States in the late 1990s, elected officials safely keep their heads. But some will face a political penalty for living their public office in accord with their pro-life convictions. To those who choose this path, we assure them that their course is just, they save lives through their witness, and God and history will not forget them. Moreover, the risk of witness should not be exaggerated, and the power of witness should not be underestimated. In an age of artifice, many voters are hungry for substance. They admire and support political figures who speak out sincerely for their moral convictions. For our part we commend Catholic and other public officials who, with courage and determination, use their positions of leadership to promote respect for all human life.
- We urge those Catholic officials who choose to depart from Church teaching on the inviolability of human life in their public life to consider the consequences for their own spiritual well being, as well as the scandal they risk by leading others into serious sin. We call on them to reflect on the grave contradiction of assuming public roles and presenting themselves as credible Catholics when their actions on fundamental issues of human life are not in agreement with Church teaching. No public official, especially one claiming to be a faithful and serious Catholic, can responsibly advocate for or actively support direct attacks on innocent human life. Certainly there are times when it may be impossible to overturn or prevent passage of a law which allows or promotes a moral evil — such as a law allowing the destruction of nascent human life. In such cases, an elected official, whose position in favor of life is known, could seek legitimately to limit the harm done by the law. However, no appeal to policy, procedure, majority will or pluralism ever excuses a public official from defending life to the greatest extent possible. As is true of leaders in all walks of life, no political leader can evade accountability for his or her exercise of power (Evangelium Vitae, 73-4). Those who justify their inaction on the grounds that abortion is the law of the land need to recognize that there is a higher law, the law of God. No human law can validly contradict the Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.”
- The Gospel of Life must be proclaimed, and human life defended, in all places and all times. The arena for moral responsibility includes not only the halls of government, but the voting booth as well. Laws that permit abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide are profoundly unjust, and we should work peacefully and tirelessly to oppose and change them. Because they are unjust they cannot bind citizens in conscience, be supported, acquiesced in, or recognized as valid. Our nation cannot countenance the continued existence in our society of such fundamental violations of human rights.
- We encourage all citizens, particularly Catholics, to embrace their citizenship not merely as a duty and privilege, but as an opportunity meaningfully to participate in building the culture of life. Every voice matters in the public forum. Every vote counts. Every act of responsible citizenship is an exercise of significant individual power. We must exercise that power in ways that defend human life, especially those of God’s children who are unborn, disabled or otherwise vulnerable. We get the public officials we deserve. Their virtue — or lack thereof — is a judgment not only on them, but on us. Because of this, we urge our fellow citizens to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or mere self-interest.
- We urge parents to recall the words of the Second Vatican Council and our Holy Father in On the Family (Familiaris Consortio), that the family is “the first and vital cell of society” (42).11 As the family goes, so goes our culture. Parents are the primary educators of their children, especially in the important areas of human sexuality and the transmission of human life. They shape society toward a respect for human life by first being open to new life themselves; then by forming their children — through personal example — with a reverence for the poor, the elderly and developing life in the womb. Families which live the Gospel of life are important agents of evangelization through their witness. But additionally, they should organize “to see that the laws and institutions of the state not only do not offend, but support and actively defend the rights and duties of the family,” for the purpose of transforming society and advancing the sanctity of life (44).
- Women have a unique role in the transmission and nurturing of human life. They can best understand the bitter trauma of abortion and the hollowness and sterility at the heart of the vocabulary of “choice.” Therefore, we ask women to assume a special role in promoting the Gospel of life with a new pro-life feminism. Women are uniquely qualified to counsel and support other women facing unexpected pregnancies, and they have been in the vanguard of establishing and staffing the more than 3000 pregnancy aid centers in the United States. They, in a way more fruitful than any others, can help elected officials to understand that any political agenda which hopes to uphold equal rights for all, must affirm the equal rights of every child, born and unborn. They can remind us that our nation’s declaration of God-given rights, coupled with the command “Thou shalt not kill,” are the starting points of true freedom. To choose any other path is to contradict our own identity as a nation dedicated to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Scot said sometimes Catholics in political life say if they vote their faith they won’t be re-elected and they won’t be able to do the good they want to do in Washington. But the bishops say the power of witness should not be underestimated. He said the bishops are telling them to first consider their eternal life. Fr. Chris said the bishops are calling politicians to grow a backbone and stand up for what’s right and true. Someday, the future will look at us today and call us a barbaric culture. We’re immune and not cognizant to how destructive this culture is. Scot noted that before the Civil War, many northerners didn’t think about the evil of slavery and only when they were confronted with its immorality did they stand up against it.
Fr. Chris said when we think of the abolitionists or Martin Luther King standing up for religious rights, these were public leaders bringing their faith into the public square.
Scot said the bishops tell us that we get the public officials we deserve if we don’t hold them to a standard of virtue and defense of life. When we do get them, we need to give them support. Scot says he reflects on how he has to send checks to those who he sees running for office and standing up for life.Our faith informs every part of our life, including financially helping some of these candidates.
In #36, we see a special message to women. Scot said it seems that women in our culture today are considered the swing votes appealed to by candidates at every level. We have a society in which women can turn the tide against abortion if they speak up. Scot said some groups like NOW say that the only issue that women care about is abortion and access to free contraception and many women feel insulted that they are boiled down to these two issues, rather than jobs, a stable society, and many of the issues that motivate men. Fr. Chris said the abortion rate wreaks disastrous effects on women. In China we see where sex-selection abortion results in girls being aborted at a high rate. Similar effects are in place in the US. Scot noted that Planned Parenthood and NOW have been the biggest opponents of laws to criminalize sex-selection abortion.
Scot and Fr. Chris said this is a great document for all Americans to hear or read ahead of the election.
- We commend all who proclaim and serve the Gospel of Life. By their peaceful activism, education and prayer, they witness to God’s truth and embody our Lord’s command to love one another as He loved us. By their service to women who have experienced abortion, they bring His peace and consolation. We urge them to persevere in this difficult work, and not to be discouraged. Like the Cross of our Lord, faithful dedication to the Gospel of Life is a “sign of contradiction” in our times.
- As Pope John Paul II has said: “It is a tribute to the Church and to the openness of American society that so many Catholics in the United States are involved in political life.” He reminds us that “democracy is … a moral adventure, a continuing test of a people’s capacity to govern themselves in ways that serve the common good and the good of individual citizens. The survival of a particular democracy depends not only on its institutions, but to an even greater extent on the spirit which inspires and permeates its procedures for legislating, administering and judging. The future of democracy in fact depends on a culture capable of forming men and women who are prepared to defend certain truths and values.”12
- As we conclude the American century and approach a new era for our own nation and the world, we believe that the purpose of the United States remains hopeful and worthy. In the words of Robert Frost, our vocation is to take “the road less traveled,” the road of human freedom rooted in law; law which is rooted, in turn, in the truth about the sanctity of the human person. But the future of a nation is decided by every new generation. Freedom always implies the ability to choose between two roads: one which leads to life; the other, death (Dt 30:19). It is now our turn to choose. We appeal to all people of the United States, especially those in authority, and among them most especially Catholics, to understand this critical choice before us. We urge all persons of good will to work earnestly to bring about the cultural transformation we need, a true renewal in our public life and institutions based on the sanctity of all human life. And finally, as God entrusted His Son to Mary nearly 2,000 years ago for the redemption of the world, we close this letter today by entrusting to Mary all our people’s efforts to witness the Gospel of life effectively in the public square.
Mary, patroness of America, renew in us a love for the beauty and sanctity of the human person from conception to natural death; and as your Son gave His life for us, help us to live our lives serving others. Mother of the Church, Mother of our Savior, open our hearts to the Gospel of life, protect our nation, and make us witnesses to the truth.