The Church holds dogmatically that there exists a “hierarchy of truths” since these truths vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith. Following a similar hierarchy of values is important as we build a true ecumenical alliance. This “hierarchy of cooperation” has essentially four rungs: protection of human life, support of the family, cultivation of ordered liberty, and care for the poor.
The first rung is the litmus test of any society: the way life is understood and treated. The architects of the new cultural order—those referred to by the pope as creating the “culture of death” —can sanction the killing of the unborn, the newborn, the gravely ill, the elderly, the disabled, and other vulnerable people in our society. This legalized barbarism is often disguised in the veil of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. By incorrectly evoking the “separation of church and state,” they seek to separate religion and religiously based convictions from public life. Against this, pro-life efforts are the greatest example of how convergence and cooperation can effectively take place among people of varying theological perspectives.
The second rung in the hierarchy of cooperation is the family. The family is the first church, the first school, the first economy, the first government, the first hospital, and the first place of refuge. Flowing from that family are churches, business enterprises, and civic associations. In the end, local government, state government, and federal government derive from the family as the first social unit. American domestic policy must favor the family; with no apologies or subterfuge.
The nuclear family clearly has been understood throughout human history, especially in the writings of sacred scripture, as heterosexual parents and their offspring. This has been the normative definition of family. Its embrace extends to cover aunts, uncles, grandparents, adopted children, widows, orphans, and single parents. However, it has never meant what many militant feminists and homosexuals want it to mean.
Creating families is one of God’s greatest blessings to humankind. We must challenge a U.S. foreign policy that denies other nations the right to bear children. We must stand against all plans to make abortion a leading export of the United States.
The third rung is ordered liberty: liberty in the Christian tradition, bounded by truth and tempered with responsibility, obligation, and compassion. In the words of the Holy Father: “Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”
Among the freedoms we must protect are those associated with religious expression and practice. Religion has a critical role to play in public discourse, the formation of public policy, and morality; it infuses morality into the political process and encourages just government. Religion is not an appendage to civility; it is at the foundation of it.
The last rung is care for the poor. Jesus Christ told us that we will always have the poor among us, and that we will be judged to a large extent by how we treat them. The bishops have called us to remember the needs of poor families first. The Catechism tells us that “the Church’s love for the poor is a part of her constant tradition.” Pope John Paul II drove this point home in both word and deed during his latest trip to America, when he made time to eat with the needy at a soup kitchen.
In our debates over how to care for the poor, while we strive to balance budgetary concerns over and against the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, we must constantly measure our actions by the twenty-fifth chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel. There the Good Shepherd separates the goats from the sheep based on his mandate for us to care for the poor and needy.
We must look for ways to empower creatively the mediating institutions, voluntary associations, and philanthropic organizations that can take up work often ineffectively handled by a bloated bureaucratic government. If we cannot find creative solutions then we rush headlong as fools where even angels fear to tread. For those angels are watching over the poor and needy and asking us to help “the least of these brothers of mine.”
The reclamation of the culture of death will require a missionary strategy that builds on the foundational methods so well enunciated by St. Paul: “I have become all things to all men, to save at least one.” The way to best achieve this is by building active, effective, and principled alliances consistent with the hierarchy of cooperation. The result will be true ecumenism at work.