Reminiscing on the Founding Meeting of the Consistent Life Network
by Carol Crossed
Twenty-nine years ago, March 1987, Consistent Life was born. Patti Narciso and Scott Rains, directors of ProLifers for Survival, affectionately called PS, were the spiritual parents of what was to become and is today, the consistent life ethic movement.
It began as The Seamless Garment Network. Former PS coordinator Mary Rider returned from graduate school to help Scott and Patti, and about 25 people were invited to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, compliments of a LifeWorks grant. The purpose of the gathering was to determine the fate of ProLifers for Survival, an organization that connected the issues of war and abortion. The inspiration for PS had grown out of the discord of single issue politics at a conference of Mobilization for Survival in Washington DC in 1980. MfS was an anti-nuclear war network of more than 65 organizations which was unable to agree on PS becoming a member group.
I still do not know who gave the LifeWorks grant. So being on the Chapel Hill invitation list was like being in an Agatha Christi novel. I heard that Rachel MacNair was invited and that’s all it took for me to mark the 3 days on my calendar. She was an heretofore affinity mate, albeit an anonymous one, from my first experience with her writings about how feminism and abortion rights was a disconnect.
I discovered other luminaries in the peace and justice movement that weekend: Fr. Joseph Nangle, the missionary from Peru who had introduced me to liberation theology in the late 70’s; Ken Maher, a Quaker and conscientious objector; Mary Meehan, anti-Vietnam War activist and author; Catherine Holderread Passmore, Mennonite and film producer; Andy Lipscomb, leader with the Committee of Southern Churchmen. Andy, in his thick Georgia drawl, kept saying profound things, like ‘PS is a keeper’. Juli Loesch, founder of PS, kept us laughing with stories about how she hosted anti-war discussion groups which she called nuclear Tupperware parties.
What began as an intimidating experience for me, ended as a bonding of brothers and sisters who reached down inside my soul and brought up a vision so powerful that my life would never be the same. I was not changed. It’s just that they exposed for me who I was all along and said that was okay.
It wasn’t until we were about ready to go home that The Seamless Garment Network was birthed. The 2 days of discussion were the labor pains necessary for us to realize that it wasn’t enough to be only against the violence of war and abortion, but we needed to expand into the issues of economic injustice, capital punishment, the arms race, and euthanasia. Just like you can look at a child and know its name, we knew our name with not a vote, but with a burst of applause: The Seamless Garment Network. We wrapped ourselves into the cloak of seamlessness, embracing a holistic ethic without political fragmentation or ideological division.
We added racism to our mission in 1993, in response to Rodney King and racial violence. And in 2002, we changed our name to Consistent Life: a Network of Peace, Justice and Life. It was more than our not wanting to answer those numerous solicitations to the Garment Workers Union of America. The name change unraveled the complexities of maneuvering an explanation about symbolism to explain our identity.
We were not and are not a symbol. Today we are over 200 organizations that live and breathe connectedness. We give groups and individuals permission to come out of the stereotypical shadow of partisanship. We allow them to come into the light of social wholeness.
Photo above: Front Row: Cathryn Passmore, Ann McCarthy, Carol Crossed, Rachel MacNair, Scott Raines. Middle row: Martha Yonke (?), Julie Loesch (now Julianne Wiley), Kathy Hayes (?), Faye Kunce, Mary Rider, Mary Meehan and (?). Top row: Kathy H. or Martha (?), Ken Maher, Andy Lipscomb, Joe Nangle, Jack Smalligan, 2 unknowns.
For more blog posts on the history of the consistent life ethic, see: