Why Anne Rice is Wrong: The Intersection of the Church and Politics Cannot be Reduced to Simplistic Labels.

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:

  1. 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.”
  2. Kirsten Powers writing yesterday in The Daily BeastI 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.

26 Replies to “Why Anne Rice is Wrong: The Intersection of the Church and Politics Cannot be Reduced to Simplistic Labels.”

  1. Great article Father. I consider myself very conservative and some would call me “right-wing”. I agree with most of the positions you put forth. I wish you would consider though that as a conservative many of us are opposed to ILLEGAL immigration — not legal immigration. Let’s open the legal channels to make jobs available to those from other countries who need and want them so our economy can thrive and the immigrant can have protection as a worker, but let’s also punish those who would break our laws to deter further lawlessness. In addition, I also very much believe in “proper care for the poor” but feel that the care is the duty of the Christian people, charity, and faith-based organizations and should not be provided by the government through taxation and bloated bureaucracy. The desire to find solutions to these issues is present for many of us traditionally on the “right” side of things. The methods we would use to do it is what is different. Respectfully.

  2. But what of the charge that the Catholic Church is merely an outpost of the Republican Party?

    Anyone who is being sincere in saying this obviously knows absolutely nothing about the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (which has long had a reputation of having staff that is pretty far to the left, a reputation that has been confirmed to me by those who have worked there).

    Personally, given the politicization of the staff at the Bishops’ Conference, and the loss of respect and prestige that the bishops have suffered by being political actors (once you get into the political arena, you become fair game), I think it would probably be a good idea if the Conference simply got out of the public policy business altogether. Right now, they are seen as being no different than any other special interest group. Better that they get rid of the lay staff and the bishops simply focus on their shepherdly duties of teaching the Catholic faith, which can of course include teaching certain foundational principles and inviting those in the political arena to apply those principles to various issues.

    1. Ok, but what is the local bishop to do or the conference of Bishop when the Pols push gay marriage or more funding for abortion? In other words, does Bishop just stay in his pulpit and preach principles or does he activate his “Catholic Conference” to organize for power and engage the pols? Is it just the approach of Catholics to preach principles and hope people agree or should they organize for power and influence?

      1. Monsignor, Bender is right. The sad truth is that the Bishops have allowed too much of the Magisterium to be ignored or tromped on by their priests, and lay people in positions of authority, i.e. religious ed, etc. There is really no denying that the Catholic Church in the USA is in the state she’s in because the Bishops decided to play a different ball game. The only way to bring this full circle is to teach, teach, teach, and then teach some more. Then political activism won’t be necessary at all.

        One problem I see is that Bishops tend to take a political agendum and make it their own, like the First Lady of the United States, or Miss America. My diocese epitomizes this – why should our second-to-last Bishop have made illegal aliens his “mission”? Our current Bishop is the USCCB Migration Chairman. We never see him in our parish. And although I believe his first job is to save souls, it seems that his job is to fight against our neighboring state to the south – the only state with enough courage to try to stop the illegal problem.

        I don’t see how anyone can possibly say that Catholics are ‘shills’ for the Republican party when everyone who reads the polls knows that Catholics vote Democrat, and large numbers of people who claim to be Catholic are pro-abortion, pro-contraception, pro-women-in-the-priesthood, and the like.

        Yes, the Bishops need to get in and stay in the pulpit and preach. They need to know what their priests are preaching. They need to take note of what various parishioners in their dioceses are saying about their priests, deacons, nuns, and lay people.

      2. Yes, Jan I see your point. Our problem is internal more than it is external. We have not handed on the faith to our own in a convincing and articulate manner and this makes it a lot harder to evangelize the world and be a creadible and united voice on any number of issues. But my only problem is that, in the mean time while we focus inwardly and strive to resolve our internal issues can we really and wholly cede the culture to the unanswered influence of others?

        1. To this question Msgr. Pope I would say wholeheartedly – YES, you should resolve your internal issues and cede the culture to the people (most of whom are not Catholic)… It may be difficult from your point of view to accept but the world does not revolve around the Church, the Church may be “nuanced” and difficult to understand for laypeople but it is not innocent in this interface. The Church’s greatest impact on society, culture, and faith have been the countless examples of martyrs – not the Inquisition… Letting two laywomen speak their opinions about the Church, it’s effect on their lives, and it’s place in their expression of faith is something I thought we crossed with Martin Luther et al., but tell me if you feel that dialogue is one the Church may yet seek to resolve on it’s own terms?

  3. Msgr.,

    The ostensible reason Anne Rice says she is leaving the Catholic Church is to escape the low brow sexist, homophobic, judgmental, nasty and political people that populate her naves. “Enough already!”, she says. Certainly that makes for a convenient, face-saving, almost heroic, exit story. Let me just say, it sounds to me like a likely excuse. Because, in the end, fellowship in the Body of Christ, is about obedience to Faith. Maybe she’s met a bigot or two along the way. So what Anne! Grow up! Pray for them. As I pray for you.


    1. Well said, Let us Pray. Her accuasations do seem to amount to the very thing she criticizes. To simplfy and cast aspirsions on an entire group is a kind of bigotry. We are more diverse and complex than she imagines.

    2. Anne does pray for them but that doesn’t mean she has to continue to associate with an organization that she sees fails in living up to the principles taught by Jesus. I applaud her for her insight and courage. Until Christianity returns to it’s roots it will continue to wither.

    3. I beleive that one can have a very strong faith and yet not participate in religious congregations and follow dogma. Wouldnt you say that it is rather bigoted yourself, to assume that Anna Rice is incorrectly accusing the Church of all these things, and to ask others to pray for her, as if she is sick or ill?

      I commend her personal strength and beleive that such examples should be respected by the Christian/Religious communites more than any other.

  4. It appears to me that the reason Catholics are forced to defend any association (explicit or implicit) with conservative political groups is the media has a liberal bias and routinely attempts to shame Christians into adopting its only virtue: tolerance.

  5. My perception is that the Church is poor – very poor – at explaining why what we believe to be the truth should be law or policy for those who do not believe. In some cases there is a very clear moral perogative – abortion, for example. In others, such as gay “marriage”, it is less clear. The distinctions we make between disapproving of the sexual acts but not the orientation ring hollow in many people’s ears. We have failed to show why our beliefs should matter to and influence the rights/freedom of others.

    While I support the Church’s efforts to stand up for what we believe, and it’s efforts to communicate and advocate for those beliefs, overt politican action may not be the best strategy. It alienates people. It can make us seem intolerant and unloving. Perhaps we should concentrate on living the Gospel ourselves – and thus being an example of Christ – rather than engaging heavily in political activity. Given the utterly and irrevocably polarized political environment in the US, I see little advantage to adopting so readily the cloak of a lobby group or political action committee.

    1. Your points are very well stated. We are often times poor at explaining our poistions. Here in the Archdiocese we are engaged in a study of how we can use new forms of communication (web, e-mail, blogs, video, youtube etc) to explain our message and go right to the people. But it is always a truth that we can do better and must do so.

      As for overt political action or the forming alliances, you have articulated the exact conundrum, we risk alienating when we are involved in the process. And yet I struggle with the thought of simply withdrawing from the process altogether. Everybody else is in there advocating and forming alliances. Perhaps your word “heavily: is an important qualifier. Finding the balance is key. But you have stated well the exact challenges.

  6. I think it is not easy to be a Christian — a follower of Christ. And the Catholic Church upholds the teachings of Christ in a culture that tells us just the opposite. Of course people get confused. But to say that you love Christ but not love, support or build up the Body of Christ are opposing statements. You can’t have it both ways. Poor Anne. The Church will always remain, if she chooses to return (again).

  7. can we really and wholly cede the culture to the unanswered influence of others?

    No, we can’t. Intelligent and informed laity need to take a broader role in the cultural and political processes so the clergy doesn’t have to. But for that to happen, the political process needs to change so good people will want to be involved in politics – and whenever I get on this track I think of SC justice Samuel Alito (not to mention Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice Roberts) and how he was treated during his questioning. Why on earth would any sane person subject themselves to that kind of abuse?

    I am afraid there is a lot of pain and and angst in store for us before all of this is over.

  8. I have been following Ms. Rice for some time, and quite frankly, this response to her publicly leaving your church reinforces my opinion of your organization as a hateful mass of hypocritical lying idiots. The entire world will be vastly improved when your organization finishes its last gasps, as more people follow Ms. Rice, and find a true path to god, rather than blindly following the likes of the leaders of this “church”.
    You make me ill.

    1. You have a nice day too Christine. By the way, many of the Churchs enemeies and haters have predicted her downfall, the pharisees, Ceasar, Napoleon, The Soviets, just to name a few. They are all gone and the Church is still here. But the Lord did promise that the gates of Hell would not prevail so, while it may surprise you Christine, it does not surprise me.

  9. Msgr. Pope,

    This is an educated and well formed response. However, I feel that you are one of the few public representatives of the Church that is putting forth this type of response. While I personally don’t agree with all of your views, I respect your message that “all this time what I was trying to be is a Christian.” I wish the contemporary Church was less involved in politics and more involved in the teachings of Christ. For every well thought out message such as yours, there seems to be a message (such as Daniel Jenky’s) that is ill informed and tied to historical inaccuracy. Thank you for reminding us that the Catholic Church has had views that represt both political parties.

  10. has anyone posting including the author of this article read the Bible?
    It clearly states to stay out of world affairs and be no part of this world. Why? Because the power of this world is lying with the wicked one. Satan tempted Jesus not with riches but with Tue nations of the world. Why? Because he is the one controlling them! It says this in the Bible! come on! Besides a lot of religions are blood guilty because of their political alliances that condoned killing. This also is in the Bible. Politics = corruption. Religions that get involved in politics are also corrupt

  11. Holly Palmer Allgood. The Catholic Church needs tearing down and rebuilding from scratch. It is full of & run by old men who refuse to change, grow up, let go of the past and the money/ power has gone to their heads. The church is a Religion and should have no political power at all. The Pope is encouraging / condoning, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, homophobia, mysogony and so much hate in general that they can be compared to Nazi Germany way back when. You as a woman should feel threatened because as a woman your rights are being taken away at a rapid rate all over the world.

  12. The thing I think most people think of the Catholic church is that they cover up their priests misdeeds and then expect people to listen to them. Take for instance, Illinois, the Catholic Bishops in Joliet expect the state to allow them to have access to government contracts while simultaneously not completing the requirements of the contract. They want a “loophole” so that they can still not offer birth control and no assistance to poor gays or anyone else they deem unworthy. If the state says no, they pack up and help no one – I can’t imagine where this looks good for Catholics.

    No one is suggesting that you must like gays or agree with them or anything else but they are saying that your religion doesn’t belong in our government. It’s fine that you don’t want to allow gay couples to marry in your church but it’s not fine to ask the government to leave those people out because you don’t agree with them.

    No one is suggesting that you have to offer birth control or help to those groups you discern as unworthy due to your religion but they are saying that if you want to take government money in the form of contracts to provide services then you have to act like everyone else and follow the rules.

    On that note, I agree with Anne Rice and if you keep it up, more people will follow. People are leaving the church now as it is and your meddling in government affairs, blocking select groups from being married by law is only going to drive them away more. I have yet to have an intelligent conversation as to why gay couples should be allowed to marry by law. That’s great you don’t agree with it but our Constitution protects all of us – not just those that have the “correct” religion.

    Thanks for you time,


  13. I too am a proud member of the wonderful Christian faith and was particularly interested in this article. Unfortunately I was sorely disappointed. While I agree with much of what has been written here, the author seems to have fallen prey to the same way of thinking that Rice and Powers fell victim too. Nowhere are any of the Church’s wrongs acknowledged or mentioned. In fact, Powers and Rice are not “wrong”, but rather “one sided” in their arguments, much as this article is. I think it’s great that this author’s Church is committed to the true teachings of Christ, but not all are (mine for example, is very political). I don’t believe the faithful members of the Church have a leg to stand on if we, as individuals, do not acknowledge our past wrongs and present problems. In that case, we have no real argument against the people who think like these women. Arguments like these reduce them to being “bitter” and reduce us to “fanaticism”. “Right” and “wrong” need to be removed from these conversations and a true dialog needs to start.

  14. It is interesting to me how this post, which I wrote two years ago, lit up again. i guess some site linked to it? It would also seem that the site must generally appeal to readers who are hostile to the Catholic Church? Curious as to what site linked here!

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