The recent and public proclamations of two prominent women, one Catholic the other Protestant, highlight the growing conflicts at the intersection of faith, politics and culture. Author, Anne Rice, who had returned to the Catholic Faith in 1998, recently “renounced” her Christian Faith. And Kirsten Powers, a Fox News analyst and former Clinton Administration official, has written in her defense. The comments of both women show how increasingly difficult it is for the Church to negotiate the delicate balance of proclaiming moral truth and yet not transgressing political and cultural boundaries by “taking sides” or forging alliances with parties and movements.
Here are some quotes from these women:
- Anne Rice from her Facebook Page – “I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”
- Kirsten Powers writing yesterday in The Daily Beast – I feel your pain, sister. Like Rice, I developed a deep faith later in life and, like her, I brought with me liberal views that aren’t normally associated with devout Christians….American Christianity is suffering from a hangover from decades of indoctrination by Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and a host of other religious leaders who falsely cloaked right-wing Republicanism in biblical principles. Worse, these leaders modeled the decidedly un-Christian behavior of treating certain groups with contempt. Even if Robertson et al. were actually justified in viewing liberals, gays, feminists, and Muslims as their enemy, their response is simply not rooted in Scripture. (See, for example, “love your enemies” and “bless those who persecute you.”) A popular bumper sticker—”I love Jesus but I hate his fan club”—reflects this growing frustration with the church among devout Christians. Something needs to change, or more Anne Rices are going to walk away. The full article by Ms. Powers is here: Kirsten Powers on Anne Rice’s Christianity Crisis
Now there are any number of things I personally object to in Ms. Rice’s comments. Referring to us as “infamous” borders on Religious bigotry. In her “anti” list I particularly object to the anti-science, and anti-gay labels. The Church has a very nuanced and smart position viz. science wherein we respect science’s role and only object when certain scientists transgress into philosophical and religious pronouncements. As for being “anti-Gay:” It is difficult when an individual or group wants to insist that its entire identity be described by particular form sexual activity which the Scriptures we revere and must obey call sinful, it is unreasonable to expect approval from the Church. But disapproval does not equate to hate as many claim or simple and crude “anti-gay” agenda. The Catholic Church is not anti-gay, we simply cannot approve of any sexual activity outside of marriage and have a principled, Biblical understanding of marriage and sexuality. What is demanded of us is unreasonable. In fact her whole diatribe is simplistic in that it lacks any proper distinctions or respect for the nuances of Catholic and Christian views.
As for Ms. Powers’ comments she too uses words that are unnecessary. Why must she describe Christians as treating certain groups with “contempt?” Is it now contempt to disagree or stand opposed to the seismic cultural shifts that have taken place in West? And why the word “enemy?” Is the fact that Christians oppose aspects of the gay agenda, for example, mean that Christians necessarily see Gays as enemies? Why are such words used and do they not express the contempt for us that they criticize? Is it not possible for Christians to have principled differences with advocates of the new morality without being charged with contempt and being told we are treating people as enemies, that we are unloving and refusing to bless others?
But the deeper issue I want to explore is the implied critique that Catholics and Traditional Christians are wrong to build alliances in the political and secular realm. The simplistic form of the charge is that traditional Christians (to include Catholics) are just an arm of the Republican Party. I want to suggest that this is both simplistic and inaccurate. I also want to address the charge that it is wrong for the Church to develop alliances. Let’s begin with a little history.
There is a long history of alliances – While the Church has never officially embraced a political party, political alliances have historically been evident. In the past, until the emergence of the Regan Democrats, Catholic voters were a reliably Democratic voting block. There were also many alliances forged between Church leaders and Democratic leaders. Issues such as labor, and labor unions, justice, minimum wage, and care for the poor forged deep alliances between Catholics and Democrats at all levels in the Church. In the years of the Civil Rights Movement the Christian Churches were the central pillar of that movement and a large number of Catholic Clergy, Sisters and lay leaders were active in the movement. The Civil rights movement forged important alliances with civic and political leaders to evoke lasting change. There were also countless alliances that developed between the Catholic Church, Protestant denominations and civic and political leaders to address a wide variety of local issues such as education, economic justice and development in poor neighborhoods, crime, traffic hazards and the like. So there is nothing new about the Church being out in the community and in the political realm forging alliances for matters deemed important.
Now in the first 70 years of the 20th Century the social and moral issues of abortion, euthanasia, homosexual activity, stem cell research and the like were not largely disputed and some didn’t even exist yet. Most Americans agreed essentially on such matters and that they were wrong. Generally then in these years the alliance was strong between the Democratic Party and Catholics due to the issues involved and the politics of the time.
After 1973 and the Roe v. Wade decision the alliance began to experience its first rifts. But not at first. In the initial years after Roe many prominent Democrats were against Abortion. For example Al Gore, Harry Reid, Jessie Jackson and others protested abortion. Abortion was not at first a strongly partisan issue. But in the decade following Roe, the pro-Choice position began to become Democratic orthodoxy. Pro-life democrats were increasingly hard to find and the party’s platform became officially pro-Choice. Little by little the Republican Party stood forth as increasingly pro-Life and this position was adopted as the official position of the GOP platform. One by one the other moral issues began to divide out along party lines as well.
And here we are today with a host of critical moral issues of which the Church cannot remain silent but in which political divisions are sharp. So sharp are these political divisions that when the Church speaks on what ARE plainly moral issues (eg. Abortion, Homosexual marriage, contraceptives and abortions to minors, stem cell research etc.) she is said to be getting too political, or to talking politics from the pulpit, or promoting a Republican Agenda. And yet these are clearly moral issues which fair minded individuals realize the Church cannot simply ignore.
And hence, new alliances are forming between the Church and the world of politics. Since most all these matters involve public policy, public funds, legislation and the like, the Church cannot be part of the discussion and seek to influence outcomes without bumping up against legislators who, by the way, also happen to be politicians. So the Church and other Christians do what we have always done, we form alliances to address these issues and influence their outcome. It is not just the Church that does this, everyone does this.
Now the point thus far is that political alliances are nothing new in Catholicism. While not being a partisan faith, it is just a fact that strong partnerships have been formed over the past 100 years between the Church and the Democrats in the past, increasingly the Republicans now. Seismic shifts in the culture have led to seismic shifts in the political landscape and led to shifting alliances.
Now that some of these alliances are seen as conservative or Republican some say, “tisk, tisk.” But such scolding did not come from these same people or secular media when the alliances were more left of center.
But what of the charge that the Catholic Church is merely an outpost of the Republican Party? It is true, as has already been stated, there are more alliances withthe right of center and the Republican Party than in the past. This is for the reasons stated. But the fact is, the Catholic Church holds many positions that do not conform to “right-wing politics” and has alliances far broader than one party. The Church is generally pro-immigration, opposes the death penalty, and insists on proper care for the poor. The Pope and most of the Bishops opposed our initiation of the Iraq War. More locally my own parish and most other parishes in the City of Washington belong to a non-partisan group called the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN). Together with Protestant congregations, we number over fifty congregations who develop partnerships with City government and civic organizations to ensure the availability of affordable housing, redevelopment of blighted neighborhoods, restoration of public libraries and recreation centers. Most recently we gathered the Candidates for Mayor and City Council Chair and secured their promise to work with us on a detailed and multi-faceted jobs initiative to get people back to work. Every month, I along withother clergy and Church leaders in WIN are down at the District Building holding their feet to fire and developing alliances to ensure that these promises are fulfilled.
It is also true outside the Interfaith Network that we Catholic Clergy, along with some Protestant Ministers worked hard to fight the Gay “Marriage” Bill. We have also fought hard for opportunity scholarships for inner city kids and opposed any expansion of Abortion funding.
So what are we? What is the Church? Is it really true to say that we are just shills for the Republican Party? That hardly seems fair. What if we are just Christians who fight for what we value? And the truth is, those values aren’t so easily categorized as Anne Rice and Kirsten Powers think. We, like everyone else in this country form alliances, to fight for what we value. But in the Catholic Church those alliances are not as monolithic as some of our critics claim.
Perhaps a personal litany to end: I am against abortion and they call me a Republican. I oppose Capital Punishment and they call me a Democrat. I am against Gay Marriage and many aspects of the Gay agenda and they say, “O see he’s a Republican!” I work for affordable housing and insist that jobs be the priority for the City agenda and they say, “See he’s a Democrat.” And all this time what I was trying to be is a Christian.