With Election 2008 in the history books, we asked a diverse group of faithful Catholics to respond to the following question:
With the results of the 2008 election, it appears that old coalitions are breaking down while new ones are being created. This presents Catholic voters with a challenge and an opportunity: What should the new movement of faithful voters look like? Where will it differ from the strategies and politics of the past? And how can faithful Catholics best live their full faith in the political realm?
We were not asking about approaches to specific legislation (e.g., no FOCA). Rather, we hoped for a broader, more bird’s-eye-view of the direction, make-up, and future of the Catholic vote.
The responses follow.
As Christians and Catholics, we are guided by the words of Jesus who teaches us “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” But in doing so, we understand that Caesar does not stand apart from God but is also subject to God. Indeed, those who heard Jesus ask them, “Whose image is on the coin?” could not have not made the inference to the Book of Genesis and Creation: “God created man in his own image; in the divine image he created them.” Jesus is saying that if God’s image is in us, then “Give to God what is God’s.”
The tendency to moral relativism in our culture is the greatest threat to authentic democracy today. As Pope John Paul II said at the UN in 1995:
Detached from the truth about the human person, freedom deteriorates into license in the lives of individuals, and in political life it becomes the caprice of the most powerful and the arrogance of power. Far from being a limitation on freedom or a threat to it, reference to the truth about the human person — a truth universally knowable through the moral law written on the hearts of all — is, in fact, the guarantor of freedom’s future.
Today, confusion about the truth of the human person is at the heart of the crisis of human values — a crisis that is being played out in politics as it is also being played out in the field of medicine.
While we must not shrink from living our faith fully in the political realm, we must avoid the temptation of the liberation theologians in overestimating the possibilities of politics (after all, for 20 of the last 28 years we have had “pro-life” presidents). They say that John Paul II, when he received bishops for the quinquennial ad limina visits, did not ask them what they were doing to change the politics in their countries, but rather what they were doing to change the culture.
As we read in 1 Peter 3:15, we must be ready to “give reason for that hope that is in you.” The articulation of this hope is prior to politics, for it is what makes faith a culture. We will not effect lasting political changes unless we can build a culture of life. This is the task and the challenge of the “new evangelization”: to recover an anthropology that reflects the truth about man — a truth that is not constructed but received and thus must reflect the reality of things. As a society we need to recover an anthropology that acknowledges that we are not self-creators but creatures, albeit creatures wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God.
The Most Rev. Thomas Wenski is bishop of Orlando.
Economic security and national security will always trump cultural issues at the ballot box, and that certainly happened in 2008. But this doesn’t mean that moral issues don’t matter — it simply means that social conservatives must regroup.
To be sure, there is some tension between neo-conservatives and social conservatives. Unfortunately, there are some in both camps who seek to disenfranchise the other. Since the election, the former have been the most vocal about checking the influence of the latter. They must be turned back, and with vigor.
The Catholic Church’s teaching on public-policy matters is most specific with regard to moral issues; on economic and foreign-policy issues, there is more room for disagreement on what constitutes the appropriate means. What this suggests is that Catholics can never yield on the life issues. The recent statement on bioethics is one more reminder how central these matters are.
The involvement of Mormons in the Proposition 8 controversy, and the willingness of some Muslims to support traditional marriage, should be welcomed by traditional Catholics, evangelical Protestants, and Orthodox Jews. And let us not forget about the role played by Latinos and African Americans, especially the black clergy. There are a lot of opportunities here. What is needed is some kind of Social Congress wherein leaders from all these groups come together, pledging cooperation on specific issues. It could prove to be formidable, and it sure would send shivers down the spine of the secular left.
Bill Donohue is the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.
Right after the election I wrote an op-ed titled “What Next?” for the National Catholic Register, which argued that
the “one-party” pro-life political strategy of the past 30 years that has identified the pro-life cause with the Republican Party and its pro-capital, pro-war political ideology must be abandoned. What’s needed is a new pro-life politics for the future that would explicitly open up a “second front” in the abortion battle within the Democratic Party.
I based my argument on the success of Proposition 8 in California, which was made possible, ironically, by strong support from Latinos and African Americans — both traditionally Democratic, pro-Obama groups. Socially conservative constituencies in the Democratic Party, I said, have for years been ignored by party leaders, and represent an opportunity for Catholic pro-life organizers.
Conversely, Evangelical presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s unique blend of social conservatism and “social democratic” economic policies got a cold reception from the Republican establishment in that party’s primaries. Yet he clearly had a strong following among religious Republicans.
These examples show that there are constituencies in each party that would align with the Church on most issues. We don’t have to endure the same dreary political sideshow every four years, with partisan Catholics in the Republican and Democratic parties haranguing each other over which is the best path: pro-life and family vs. pro-social justice and peace.
But to get the consistently Catholic candidates we want, we’ll have to organize and commit to an explicitly Christian political program that would be promoted by political action groups and think tanks — the more the better. These would work within both the Democratic and Republican parties to advocate for the common good in the true sense, based upon the four pillars of Christian social morality: life, family, social justice, and peace.
These four pillars are not something I made up. Rev. James Tunstead Burtchaell has written in Philemon’s Problem that they can be traced back to the early Christians, who fundamentally changed community life by protecting the unborn and infants (life), elevating women in marriage (family), recognizing the dignity of slaves (social justice), and reconciling with enemies (peace).
The Church enforced this social morality — however imperfectly — throughout the centuries. Then, in 1891, in response to the crisis of industrial societies, Pope Leo XII issued the first social encyclical, Rerum Novarum. Since then, the popes have continued to develop the Church’s social teaching, what has been called its “best-kept secret.”
With the world in a global economic crisis,
and the pope set to publish his new social encyclical, reportedly titled Caritas in Veritate
(Charity in Truth), early next year, now is the opportune time to make this “secret” the basis for a new Catholic politics.
In voting for Obama, Americans were voting for change. They’re likely to be disappointed, if only because Obama’s vision has little substance. The Church’s social doctrine is the only political philosophy left in the world with the substance and the credibility to be the basis for real change — an alternative to the failures of socialism and hedonistic capitalism.
If the early reports on his encyclical are correct, Pope Benedict appears to agree with Obama that real change is needed to restore the social fabric of the world. In his message for the upcoming World Day of Peace on January 1, 2009, the pope quoted from John Paul II’s social encyclical, Centesimus Annus, calling for “a change of lifestyles, of models of production and consumption, and of the established structures of power which today govern societies.”
Until we Catholics develop the courage to organize for this sort of radical change based on the Church’s authentic teaching on social concerns, we will continue to be a weak presence in the public square.
Angelo Matera is the editor of GodSpy
I am ecumenical by bloodline. My grandparents were Methodist, Quaker, Presbyterian, and Catholic, respectively. My mother was a convert to Catholicism, and my wife and I were not married in the Catholic Church. Our children married non-Catholics. My Catholic-convert wife and her born-and-raised-Catholic husband enjoy dinner table religious sparring as an accepted course in a four-course meal.
I co-chaired Catholics for McCain and unapologetically supported the senator’s support for life and traditional marriage. My Catholic convert co-chair, Sen. Sam Brownback, was no less enthusiastic.
We knew that Catholics would be critical of John’s candidacy. We knew that we would lose if we didn’t “win” the Catholic vote. We didn’t win the Catholic vote, and we lost.
So what do orthodox Catholics do about it? Acknowledge first that we are a secular nation that goes to church. That seems contradictory, but it’s true. We go to Mass, do our Catholic thing, and leave everybody else alone. It avoids religious wars and other unpleasantries.
But that doesn’t mean we should be mute. If we think that life must be protected, we should shout it from the rooftops. If marriage is between a man and a woman, we should bellow it out. If we don’t think that courts should order the taxing of religious schools or prohibit physicians in Catholic hospitals from performing abortions, we must make some noise about it.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease. If Catholics don’t bellow between Masses, we lose. And much of what we believe in will be jeopardized. It is a secular country, after all. If the political class doesn’t hear us, our reward will be defeat.
Frank Keating is the former governor of Oklahoma.
Catholics who are intelligent about politics and serious about religion already try to bring faith to bear on politics. Those who are Democrats labor at the thankless task of turning their party around on social issues. Republicans work to keep the GOP pro-life. A handful with third-party dreams may even be contemplating that arguably self-defeating option. More Catholics in all three groups should accept the risks and pains of running for office or seeking party leadership.
Trouble is, there aren’t nearly enough politically intelligent, religiously serious Catholics to go around. As it stands, many Catholics, probably most, have consciences demonstrably malformed about politics and much else besides.
The solution, of course, is conscience formation.
Catholic voting last November highlighted the need. But it’s also reflected in the letters I’ve learned to expect when I write about politics. They say things like this: I’m a good Catholic, and I voted for Obama, so it must be right. If the bishops were really pro-life, they’d talk less about abortion and more about global warming and AIDS. Where does the Church get off telling people how to vote when it won’t ordain women/let gays marry each other?
The people who spout this stuff need conscience formation — lots of it.
Ideally, the bishops would get together to provide it, using their national conference as a vehicle. But the hierarchy collectively is too divided on key aspects of conscience and politics to do more than crank out unsatisfactory consensus documents like this year’s “Faithful Citizenship.” Next election season we’ll probably get again what we got in 2008 — a flurry of individual bishops’ statements presenting a scattered, conflicted response.
If most bishops can’t be counted on to help much, what then? The only approach with a ghost of a chance is for a well-heeled organization like the Knights of Columbus to fund a serious program on conscience formation involving professional research, planning, publications, and training. It should be situated on the campus of one of our few solid Catholic universities — and I don’t mean Boston College, either.
Failing that, there’s little to do except ponder the second epistle to Timothy (4:3-4): “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth.” That’s American Catholicism today.
Culture runs deeper than politics.
American Catholics should understand — although most of them don’t, or at best understand only dimly — that for the past few decades their religion has been under serious cultural assault. And it is not just Catholicism. Non-“liberal” Christianity in general, whether Catholic or Protestant, is being undermined. Leading the assault are anti-Christian secularists who, for the most part, are either atheists or virtually atheistic agnostics; but aiding and abetting them are “liberal” or “progressive” Protestants and Catholics.
Fundamentally at stake in this cultural civil war is this: Will American culture remain what it has been for most of its history — a predominantly Christian thing — or will it become predominantly atheistic? Of course, anti-Christians rarely or never say bluntly: “Let’s de-Christianize America.” Instead, they say things like, “Let’s recognize rights to abortion, same-sex marriage, doctor-assisted suicide,” and so on — the expansion of these “rights” being directly proportional to the contraction of Christianity.
This war has spilled over into politics, where anti-Christians have won a strong position in the Democratic Party, and traditional Christians have won almost (but not quite) as strong a position in the Republican Party. Am I saying that Catholics and other old-fashioned Christians are duty-bound become Republicans? No, but I do say that they must “punish” politicians of either party who aid the anti-Christian cause and “reward” politicians who do the opposite.
At the same time, Catholics must beware of two dangers. They have to be careful not to be taken in by fraudulent politicians who pretend to be friends of Christian culture merely to get votes. They also have to be careful, while being political, not to rely too much on politics. The idea that we can save Christianity in America through politics alone, or through politics mainly, is a dangerous illusion. If Christianity is eventually saved, this will happen chiefly because Christians have lived and thought as Christians.
But somebody might ask: “Why can’t we and the secularists just live and let live? Why do we have to fight?” Because the secularist movement is not passive and tolerant. It is exceedingly aggressive in promoting a culture that will deprive Christianity of the oxygen it needs. If we don’t want our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to grow up in a world deeply hostile to Christian beliefs and values, we have no choice but to fight back — and part of the fight has to be conducted on the field of politics.
When I consider the question of Catholics and politics, my mind turns not to political parties or even particular issues, but to other elements missing from contemporary political discourse and activism — elements that Catholics should feel particularly responsible for bringing to the table.
Those elements are skepticism, truthfulness, and subsidiarity.
The first two go together. Contemporary American political discourse is marked by many characteristics, but adherence to reality and truth is not one of them. We are bombarded by sound bytes, by assertions about reality, about cause and effect. We are subject to continual manipulation and a sly, devious landscape of dual realities, in which plans and proposals are set forth for one avowed reason when they actually serve other purposes, most often related to those proposing it and their allies retaining power and making a profit.
We are, in a word, stuck, because no one — not the press, not political opponents, not activists — is willing to question received wisdom or stated assumptions about what is possible or beneficial for our society.
It seems to me that Catholics, with our tradition of awareness of the limits of the City of Man, are particularly suited — and have a special responsibility — to question, push, and prod, rather than operating in a mode that accepts the received wisdom of either major party on every issue out there, whether that be education, health care, or the economy.
Further — whether we are voters, activists, or even bishops — as we critique government programs and engage in the decisions about how they can best serve the needs of the poor, we cannot and should not seek to divorce ourselves from the concerns of politics and government. At the same time, it is perhaps worth considering whether Church leaders might look to their own houses regarding questions of economic justice and the extent to which Church institutions are really and truly dedicated to serving the poor in a sacrificial way before demanding more, and yet still more, from government institutions.
The Italian communist Antonio Gramsci found a good rule for political engagement in Romain Rolland’s formula: “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” This comes pretty close, I think, to the Christian practice of hope, which is more audacious and far more difficult than any presidential campaign can afford to admit. Put not your trust in platforms or in electoral coalitions. In our two-party system, these are, at best, temporarily useful to those whose main political concern is what it should be: justice.
Freedom and security are also important, but when they become more important than justice, rot sets in to a democracy. If justice, rather than security, had been our first concern, we would not have confused preventive with preemptive war. We would not have tortured detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. If justice, rather than freedom, were our first concern, we wouldn’t tolerate the gross inequalities of our carious economy, as it madly searches for another bubble to keep it afloat. Health care would go to those who most need it — that is, to the sick, whether rich or poor, employed or unemployed. If justice were our first concern, we wouldn’t be disposing of a million unborn human beings every year.
For the sake of both our credibility and our intellectual integrity, prolife Catholics must get out from under the thumb of a political movement that combines a quasi-Christian cultural posture with an essentially libertarian contempt for the state. This unstable synthesis, concocted in the editorial offices of the National Review fifty years ago, has left many American Catholics unwilling to accept — or unable to understand — the Church’s social teachings. Those teachings may not furnish us with a ready-made policy program, but they do provide some necessary points of reference. Above all, they help us avoid certain noxious tendencies of thought, including the tendency to distrust all political authority and yield instead to the power of capital.
Put not your trust in Wall Street or Ayn Rand. As Alan Greenspan could tell you, these are brittle idols.
Matthew Boudway is an associate editor of Commonweal.
Having cut its political teeth in immigrant slums,
with an “alien” religion that the Protestant majority distrusted, the American Catholic community learned to view that American mainstream with suspicion, even hostility: Catholic bishops joined Jewish groups in the 1950s to oppose prayer in public schools — since the prayers were Protestant. While our leaders were right to support the Civil Rights movement, the Catholic liberalism that emerged from it offered blanket support to any group that called itself “oppressed”: radicalized housewives, homosexuals, women seeking abortions, leftist revolutionaries, illegal migrants. This promiscuous sympathy for the underdog, even when he was wrong, wasn’t the fruit of Christian charity, but of modern sentimental liberalism
— which feeds like a cancer on the Church.
When the State is, by definition, secular, the more powerful and expensive government gets, the more secular everyone’s life becomes. Your taxes go up — and you can’t afford Catholic school. Government aid, if it comes, brings the kind of controls now forcing British Catholic adoption agencies either to cater to gay couples or close. The only sphere for religious activity in America is the private one — and it shrinks with every tax hike and new regulation.
The temptation for the American hierarchy, which leans on new immigrants
for parishioners and vocations, will be to repeat the old “Irish strategy,” mobilizing the poor through the party of the underdog — the Democrats. Like most poor immigrants through history, these new Americans tend to vote for their pocketbooks and their perceived ethnic interest. The Republicans can never outbid them, or win them over using the social issues. Heck, the life issue barely registers with Catholic Anglos who aren’t
living near the poverty line. (Think: Rudy Giuliani.)
Since Catholics who vote primarily on life and other “values” issues are a minority of a minority, we will need to go on relying on the activism of the Protestant Christian Right. Up to now, we’ve been suspicious of their apparent unconcern for the poor, their small-government bias. We were wrong. We should join them in fighting for the smallest, most localized government
possible, and build our institutions to survive without state aid, and in the face of state persecution — which may be coming. FOCA
could force our hospitals to perform abortions or close — in which case we should not only close them, but dynamite them, simultaneously. Preferably on Guy Fawkes Day
What should the new movement of faithful voters look like?
I dislike that whole notion, because the very term “movement” suggests something that crescendos and then ebbs away; we’ve done “movements” for the last 40 years, and the world finally could use a little permanence. But if there is to be a “movement” of faithful voters, then I would hope it would look like the crowds of millions who attended the funeral mass of Pope John Paul II — serious, prayerful, engaged, humble, diverse, alert, open, positive, inviting, and driven by joyous certainty instead of emotion.
I would hope that our sometimes thin skins in the face of insult would change from red-faced anger to a sort of gentle, even humorous rebuke, demonstrating that if the world is hating us for His sake, then we’re on the right track, and privileged to be so slandered.
Catholics who get caught up in complaining about how the press or Hollywood treats us are wasting precious airtime and energy, and they sound like every other whining, hurt-feelings group on the planet — crabbed and weak. The gospel message is not contained in any of that. Catholics need to remember that the challenges of our age, whether they be bioethical, political, or social, require “systemic solutions” — via legislation and so forth — but that the greatest “system” offering the most profound “solutions” is the human heart, upon which faulty vessel are mankind’s best and worst adventures launched. Appeals to the human heart, via the gospel message of Christ and supported by a calm Catholic presence slow to identify “enemies,” will go much further toward changing resolute-secularist minds and hearts than one more “Abortion Is Murder” sign.
So how should Catholics live their faith in the public square? Trust but verify. Or, in other words, assume the best of our opponents, but call for something from them that is a little more substantial than rhetoric.
As we watch world economies plummet, as the elites tumble and we see how empty all of our prosperity has been, people may be open to a different message, and we must be prepared for that. We must be ready to challenge them to be their best selves — what they can be when they’re not knee-jerking against Catholic stances, simply because they are Catholic (and therefore the most establishment of establishments, against which the perpetual adolescents will always rebel).
Public Catholics may find that they are most effectively received when they stop acting parental — even though, in many ways, the society seems to force that — and acknowledge just how difficult it can be sometimes to live a life that is answerable to others, and to God. They must be ready to say that living such an accountable life is valuable and freeing and great. And that it is all of those things because it is difficult.
Benedict is well-named as pope. By taking his name, he deliberately wished to hearken back to the period of the Dark Ages in which faithful Christians had to gather in redoubts within a pagan sea surging around them. To preserve our faith, we may have to do the same. This is not a cowardly retreat; it is a means of defense, and a secure place from which to go back on the offensive.
The first public duty is to speak the truth. This is going to become even harder as the truth threatens the rationalizations of the many who have chosen abortion, pornography and other moral disorders as the center of their lives. This is why public rhetoric has become so morally impoverished, and why anyone who speaks against the embrace of homosexuality is banned from office. We should forget about public office if that is the price. It is more important for us to insist that the debate be reopened on the fundamental moral issues of life and generation. We should take as our motto the lines from Ezekiel: “When you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me. If I tell the wicked, ‘O wicked one, you shall surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.’ (Ezekiel 33, 7-8) Therefore, we must speak courageously — not to win public office, but to save our souls. In saving our souls, we may help save our country.
Robert R. Reilly was a special assistant to President Reagan and served as his liaison to the Catholic Church. He is a frequent contributor to InsideCatholic.com and
The best, holiest, most practical, most biblical, and most orthodox thing Catholics could do in the coming years is remember the instruction of St. Paul:
Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2).
As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ (Col 2:6-8).
The central problem of American Catholics on both the Left and the Right is that we don’t take seriously Christ’s kingship and are more or less constantly seeking to accommodate the teaching of the Church to the needs of political machines that regard us as digestible ingredients in a demographic bloc. The result is plain to see: On the Left, Catholics wink in servility at the abortionist zeal of Obama and company and whisper soothing things about how they will ride the tiger to a new era of social justice and peace.
Result: Now that Obama has used them, there is a very good chance, judging from his cabinet picks, that he will discard them and enact extremely radical abortion legislation.
On the Right, Catholics winked in servility at war crimes
and embryonic stem cell research
and whispered soothing things about how they would ride the tiger to a new era of democracy and prosperity, and (this time for sure!) the GOP will stop phoning it in
each Roe v. Wade
Day and raise American abortion jurisprudence to Carthaginian levels of respect for life.
Result: looming depression, a disastrous and unnecessary war in Iraq, a disgraceful record of excusing war crimes, electoral catastrophe, and — last but not least — a GOP that is, following the nomination (and defeat) of a candidate who was not especially eager to touch Christians with a barge pole, somehow managing to convince itself that the smart thing to do is spit on believers
Moral: Those to whom much is given, much will be required. We Catholics, who have been given the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness, can no longer afford to trim it and thereby trade our birthright for a pot of message. We should hold fast to the fullness of the gospel and put it before our tribal allegiances to either Left or Right. Jesus said that, to those who do not have, even what they have will be taken from them. Our political exploiters have cheerfully shown us the practical political truth of this. Now is the time to remember our Lord’s much more hopeful promise: Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all else will be added as well.
The Republican Party is never better than when it is out of power. It rediscovers its roots in a limited government philosophy. It fights against spending and taxes. It warns of the regulatory state. It is even skeptical of war and nation-building. Think back to those good old days of the 1990s when the Republicans railed against the socialist policies of Clinton. Then consider the dramatic change that occurred once Bush took power. Suddenly, the love of limited government went away. The administration racked up the worst spending record since FDR, all with the approval of the Republican Party. It was hypocrisy at its worst.
So I for one am relieved to see the good old days return. The Republicans are already rediscovering their roots in old-time liberal philosophy. Even before Obama has taken office, they are blasting away at the idea of a bailout of the car industry, skeptical of interference with free markets, and calling for a restoration of American liberty. Give it a few years, and we will see them denouncing nation-building again. If Obama attempts any new wars, it is not at all clear he will be able to count on the Republicans to support him.
On the one hand, this is an egregious propensity, an opportunistic shifting of the rhetorical cover necessary to keep the political base. On the other hand, someone has to provide a counterbalance to the tendency of government toward domestic and international empire. If we look back at the Clinton years, we can see that the Republicans were actually rather effective: The public payroll shrank, the deficit nearly disappeared, and overall spending slowed to a crawl. If we were to develop a political strategy based on this record, we might say that the best of all possible worlds is to have Democrats in power with Republicans relentlessly biting their heels.
Blessed gridlock! The more these people tie themselves in knots, the more the American people are free to proceed with living happy, prosperous lives and building a livable civilization.
I write from the perspective of having spent 25 years living in the United Kingdom. During that time, I saw the country move from being a nominally Christian country to becoming one of the most aggressively secular countries in Europe. It is often said that what happens in the United States takes five years to get to Britain. The truth is that the transatlantic cultural highway is a two-way street. The aggressive atheism of the British is already alive in the United States, and we can expect to see more of it.
The future composition of the Catholic vote in the United States must be seen in the context of increasing secularism, and this trend affects the shifting attitudes within Catholicism and within the body of Christian believers.
There is an underlying theological and philosophical conflict among Christians that will play out in every sphere of our corporate life, including politics. There is a winnowing going on, where the chaff and the wheat are being sorted out. What will emerge among Catholics (and other Christians) is a clear division between those who believe the Christian faith is the result of divinely revealed truths that must be obeyed, and those who believe that the Christian faith is a human construct that must (if it is to survive) adapt to the age in which it finds itself.
If the British experience is cross-fertilizing our culture, then as our society moves rapidly toward a secular, atheistic mindset, Christians of the first sort will be seen to be irrelevant at best and subversive and countercultural at worst. Meanwhile, the second sort of Christians will increasingly cease to follow the Christian faith in any recognizable way. As this division increases, the likelihood of some sort of persecution of Christians of the first sort becomes more real. This may come through restrictions on tax-exempt status, state interference in the policies of religious schools and institutions, restrictions on broadcasting and publishing, and organized resistance to any attempt of Christian bodies to influence public policy.
This suppression of religious freedom will be accomplished by the “need” to eradicate “homophobia,” the desire to encourage multiculturalism, and support strict separation of Church and State. It is very possible that legislation that pretends to promote “choice” will actually be devised as an attempt to suppress “hate crimes,” the definition of which will remain ambiguous.
If this prognosis is correct, then Catholics who believe the Faith is divinely revealed and therefore unable to be compromised need to be prepared for the gathering storm. How can we build a powerful voice for the joyful truth of God for our country and our world?
There are three steps: First of all, alliances need to be strengthened with Christians (and members of other faiths) who share our theological and philosophical foundations.
Second, our Catholic schools, from elementary to postgraduate, must be renewed with a new surge of authentic, dynamic orthodoxy. Through our schools, we must raise up a new generation of well-educated, faithful, loving, joyful, and committed Catholics. This renewal will require faith, prayer, and new investment of time, money, and expertise.
Finally, American Catholics need to take seriously our most underestimated secret weapon: Hispanic immigrants. So far, our attempts to encourage and enable our Catholic brothers and sisters from Central America have been limited. The Hispanic population is young, Catholic, and aspirational. It is in our long-term interests to encourage a positive and open immigration policy that enables them to become fully active members of our democratic system.
In addition to this, we must vastly increase our efforts to make sure they remain Catholic. We must put social and educational programs in place to help them fit in, find work, and become citizens. We must enable their children to come to Catholic schools. We must catechize and empower those who come across our borders to be vibrant members of the American Catholic community. We must integrate them into the American Catholic Church and grant them access to all the privileges of being both Catholic and American.
If we take these three steps, I believe Catholic America will have a positive and powerful future.
Rev. Dwight Longenecker writes from Greenville, South Carolina where he is Chaplain to St Joseph’s Catholic School. Read his website and daily blog at www.dwightlongenecker.com.
I see two likely possibilities and one unlikely one.
The first likely possibility is that the New Evangelicals, led by people like Gov. Mike Huckabee, will proceed to take power in the Republican Party. Seeing that they are losing the Hispanic and African American votes — parts of our U.S. population that are growing more quickly than other racial groups — a reassessment of their policies on poverty and the environment, and possibly immigration, will make sense. The question, of course, is whether voters who are still Republicans — in other words, the most loyal Republicans — would let such candidates get through the primary system. (This theory, of course, requires that the GOP doesn’t follow the lead of Sean Hannity, Michael Reagan, and others who claim that the Republican Party lost because its leaders abandoned its conservative principles.)
The second likely possibility is based on the growth of the Democratic Party’s voter rolls. I presume, though I have no data, that there are more former Republicans in the Democratic Party now than ever before. As such, many Obama voters and new Democrats would probably still describe themselves as religious and pro-life. Anti-abortion Democrats like Kathleen Dahlkemper (PA) have already made substantial gains in Congress. One could expect this trend to continue as Republicans-turned-Democrats vote for pro-life candidates in the Democratic primaries. The more pro-life Democrats are elected, the more pro-life voters will feel at home there, which could become a self-sustaining system for an entire generation.
The third possibility is far less likely. If a legitimate superstar and millionaire such as Rev. Rick Warren were to start a new political party, this could be a magnet for disaffected Republicans and pro-life Democrats alike. The history of third-party politics in America is disappointing, but that doesn’t make it impossible for one to succeed. With the right personality behind it, a competitive third party may become a home for religious voters in America — it just hasn’t happened yet.
Whatever the future holds, our primary vocation will continue to be not politicking, but getting closer to God. What really counts is that God has already voted for us. We just need to vote for Him, too.
Eric Pavlat is a board member of Democrats for Life of Maryland, Inc., and a columnist and blogger for InsideCatholic.com.
What has the 2008 election changed for Catholics?
One thing it has not changed: the primacy of the life issues — the rights of the unborn, the aged, the terminally ill. As Pope John Paul II said in Christifideles Laici:
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 for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.
A society that withholds this basic right from its weakest and most vulnerable members renders meaningless the other rights mentioned in our noble Declaration of Independence — to liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
During the recent election campaign, Catholics who supported Senator Obama’s positions on other social-justice issues complained that an avowedly pro-life administration had done little to abolish abortion. That is unfair. President Bush did what he could. He prevented the use of tax money to fund abortion, here and abroad. He signed the prohibition of partial-birth abortion, vetoed by President Clinton. He appointed two strongly pro-life Supreme Court justices. Those achievements are not negligible. Going beyond them requires stronger popular support than presently exists. Developing that support means changing not laws, but hearts and minds.
“For too long we’ve been asking politicians to do our work for us,” a bishop who has been outspoken in the defense of life said to me recently. Of course the law should protect the weak and vulnerable: children in the womb; Grandma in a nursing home, whose care is costly and whose mind has gone ahead of her. But laws that lack broad popular support undermine respect for law in general. We went down that road with Prohibition in the 1920s, and it was a disaster.
Changing hearts and minds in a pluralistic society requires arguments that appeal not to Church teaching but to the common good. The right to life is a civil-rights issue, not a religious one. A century and a half ago, the primary civil-rights issue was slavery. It was defended with tactics and arguments chillingly similar to those used by pro-choice people today. Abolitionists (few of them Catholics, for reasons that are historically understandable, though unfortunate) were considered kooks and screwballs by the upright pillars of pre-Civil War society.
Catholics who fear opprobrium today need to heed the Lord’s call: to be salt and light. The man on the cross never promised his followers a majority.
One thing Catholics in political life can do for America — whether they’re politicians or media growlers — is renew our public rhetoric of sacrifice.
Right now, the only kind of sacrifice to which politicians believe they can call us is military service. (We are sometimes able to talk about one other kind of suffering, the suffering of those who, unlike the voting classes, “deserve it”; but this punitive rhetoric usually becomes dehumanizing, leading to public acquiescence in and even enthusiasm for prisoner abuses at home and abroad.) A broader public rhetoric of sacrifice would apply to a whole host of issues, from abortion to proposed bailouts of flailing industries.
You might object that rhetoric of sacrifice and suffering can be deployed in defense of terrible policies, or callous attitudes toward those who suffer. And you’d be right. I don’t identify this as the major flaw of our political (and, more importantly, cultural) rhetoric because I think it will always lead people to the right policies. I’m pushing this issue because without it, our politics can only focus on safety, comfort, and happiness — not freedom, virtue, responsibility, or mercy. And as science fiction author Walter Miller showed in his terrific Catholic novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, the statue of Comfort often stands outside the euthanasia house. Great crimes and little crimes are committed every day in the name of relief of suffering.
Political rhetoric has been different in the past. From Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural speech to John F. Kennedy’s “ask not” line, American politicians have been able to call us to something higher than self-interest.
There’s a crucifix in every Catholic church. There should be a crucifix in every Catholic heart. And Catholics in the public square should not shy away from the rhetoric of sacrifice — especially since our Church can guide us in discerning which sacrifices are necessary, which suffering can be relieved and which must be accepted. This is a task for which we’re uniquely qualified; it’s what we can do for our country.
Catholics who are serious about having an impact in politics must realize that the bishops are not going to do the job for them. Too many Catholics assume that nothing can be accomplished without the bishops being in the lead — this is neither practical or desirable. Political engagement is the province of the laity and should be embraced on the basis of a sound understanding of the Church’s social teaching.
It was the flawed “Faithful Citizenship” document, coupled with some unwise public remarks by Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden, that brought the bishops into play during the 2008 election. These circumstances are very unlikely to be repeated anytime soon. Catholics will be making a mistake if they assume that the 80+ Catholic bishops who spoke out to defend Church teaching this year will continue to do so in future elections.
The niche efforts of pro-life Catholics in the 2008 election was overwhelmed by the “Faithful Citizenship” program that spread rapidly through chanceries and parishes during the six months prior to the November election. Not all the seminars and discussion groups seized on the loopholes in the document, but the evidence shows that many did.
In preparation for the 2012 election an alternative program — one that corrects the loopholes — should be established at the grassroots level. It must help Catholics understand the issue priorities of Church teaching, especially the basic distinction between which issues are prudential in nature and which are not, and just what that distinction means for their political judgments.
The only Catholic effort that will make a difference in the long run is one that arises from the grassroots, infuses the parishes and chanceries, and makes its mark without expecting the bishops to get the job done.
Deal W. Hudson is the director of InsideCatholic.com.
Catholics are often told they must accommodate their beliefs to our political parties. In a pluralistic democracy such as ours, the argument goes, Catholics cannot exert too much pull and therefore must water down the fullness of Catholic social teaching. But surely accommodation is part of the problem in Catholic America, not the solution.
For four decades, Catholics have knuckled under to political leaders; with little say so from the faithful, the Democratic Party moved left on cultural issues, while the Republican Party moved right on economics. This remains the case today. Few Catholic conservatives challenge the GOP to do more to help the poor and vulnerable here at home; few Catholic liberals or progressives challenge the Democratic Party to extend legal protections to unborn infants.
So then how has accommodationism benefited Catholics or Americans? It certainly hasn’t made American life more Catholic, if our me-first public philosophy is any guide. And it has left Catholics more divided, a fact which Pope Benedict XVI lamented in his visit this past spring.
Catholics would be better served with a reformist approach: The faithful ought to reform both political parties to make them better vessels of Catholic social thought. If this were to happen, at a minimum the Democratic Party would be more culturally conservative, while the Republican Party would be more economically populist or liberal.
Making this happen among Democrats won’t be easy, but it can be done. In my book Why the Democrats Are Blue
, I call for democratizing the party’s presidential nominating system, a reform that would likely reduce the influence of upper-class cultural liberals and empower middle- and working-class cultural moderates and conservatives. (For example, the party should eliminate the gender quotas for delegates and caucus elections and let independents vote in all party primaries). In Grand New Party
, Catholic co-author Ross Duouthat argues that the Republican Party should re-orient its concerns toward working-class Americans, especially those under the grip of family breakdown and economic instability.
Likewise, Archbishop Charles Chaput calls not for accommodating Catholics to the Republican Party, but rather for Catholics to reform both
parties. “The sooner Catholics feel at home in any political party, the sooner that party begins to take them for granted and then to ignore their concerns,” he writes in Render Unto Caesar
. “Party loyalty is a dead end. It’s a lethal form of laziness.” This is not a new revelation on his part. For the past several years, he has hosted the annual Bob Casey Lecture, which I was honored to deliver in September. If the Archbishop was a Republican, he surely would have named it, say, the Henry Hyde Lecture, in honor of the late pro-life GOP leader, rather than a deceased Democratic politician.
The lecture is well named. A reformer, Casey was a Catholic who happened to a member of a particular political party. Unfortunately as pluralists, most of us seem to prefer being Republicans or Democrats who happen to be Catholics.