The National Catholic Review

In 1936, near the end of the election campaign, a Roman Catholic priest gave a nationwide radio address endorsing Franklin Delano Roosevelt for re-election. "In this critical hour, I urge you to use every effort at your command among your relatives, friends and acquaintances in support of Franklin D. Roosevelt," concluded Msgr. John A. Ryan. The broadcast was paid for by the Democratic National Committee and much of the talk was in response to another Catholic priest, Father Charles Coughlin, who had been denouncing FDR.

In 1954, Congress passed a law forbidding pastors to endorse candidates from the pulpit or risk losing their tax exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service. So, for legal reasons, we haven’t had Catholic priests giving endorsements in churches, although nothing in the law bans them from making endorsements in their capacity as citizens outside the confines of their church. Additionally, in 1980, Democratic Congressman Father Robert Drinan was forced to resign his seat in Congress under pressure from Pope John Paul II who did not want priests in politics, unless it was Poland of course.

This past weekend, a group of conservative, mostly evangelical, pastors decided to challenge the law banning endorsements. They gave sermons that explicitly endorsed a candidate for president. As far as the news reports indicate, the only candidate endorsed was John McCain, mostly citing his stance in opposition to both abortion and gay marriage, issues "that transcend all others" according to Rev. Ron Johnson, Jr., a pastor in Indiana who joined the protest. Rev. Johnson went on to say "The issue is not ’Are we legislating morality?’ This issue is ’Whose morality are we legislating?’"

Rev. Johnson is right on the second point: All legislation is in some sense a legislation of morality. The civil rights movement forced an all-white Southern morality that forbid racial integration to accept racial integration. The opposition that Pope John Paul II voiced against the Iraq War was based on moral principles, as was President Bush’s decision to pursue the war anyway. When the Supreme Court ruled that abortion was about "privacy" they begged the question that was at issue. So, yes, morality defines what we mean by justice and justice is the objective of law.

But, the good reverends should have thought twice about their protest on other grounds. For starters, these evangelical churches are the ones that distribute the bracelets that carry the simplistic slogan, "What Would Jesus Do?" or just the initials "WWJD?" As to the issue at hand, we know pretty well what Jesus did and did not do, and He did not get overly involved in politics. And, as the Catholic bishops argued in their document "Faithful Citizenship"), while some issues are more important than others, and a well informed conscience will rank the issues accordingly, abortion and gay marriage are not issues that trump all others, even though they are very important. Politics is a complicated business and reducing it to one or two issues is wrong. Similarly, and especially given the changes in the Democratic platform, an argument can be made that their policy directives will do more to reduce the abortion rate than the GOP call to overturn Roe v. Wade. You can agree with the argument or not, but you have to have an argument of your own.

Archbishop Favalora of Miami seemed to strike the right note about how churchmen should be involved in politics when he announced that none of his priests would be joining the protest. He cited several reasons, including all the good the Church accomplishes with the money they save from their tax-exempt status. "For another, ’scriptural truth’ is not that easy to attain. Which is more ’true’ in terms of scripture: The Old Testament passage that says ’an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ or Jesus’ admonition to ’turn the other cheek’? The problem is that people often quote selectively from Scripture in order to back their own opinions. The other problem is that rarely, if ever, does an individual candidate or political party embody the gamut of ’scriptural truth.’"

The day after the election, we will have a new President, not a new Messiah. The reason to keep religion out of partisanship is because faith will get sullied if it descends into those depths. The First Amendment protects religion from the State as much as the other way round.

Michael Sean Winters

Comments

Anonymous | 9/29/2008 - 11:49am
It would be nice if Catholics were exhorted to consider what is pragmatically reasonable. Can laws make people compassionate? Can laws make people willing to sacrifice? There is still plenty of racism despite laws against racial discrimination. Similarly, there will still be plenty of abortion should it come to pass that abortion be made illegal. On the other hand, government conducts foreign policy, government declares war, government kills some criminals, and government sets the rules for the economy. If the government does a lousy job doing the things government is supposed to do, is it right to support that government just because it says that it opposes abortion even though it does nothing, and can do almost nothing, to change abortion.
Anonymous | 9/29/2008 - 11:20am
Cute comment on Mr. Winters, Anne B.-I enjoyed it! Mr. Winters stated, "... a well informed conscience will rank the issues accordingly, abortion and gay marriage are not issues that trump all others, even though they are very important." Let's just take abortion. If abortion doesn't trump all other issues, then why deny communion to a public proponent while allowing communion to those who commit other heinous crimes against humanity and G_d? This question for the Catholic Bishops.
Anonymous | 9/29/2008 - 3:28pm
Mr. Winters... it's called ''taking a stand.'' I realize that since liberals do not stand for anything beyond ''if it feels good do it,'' this is a new concept to you. You should check it out before wagging your finger at the clergymen who, right or wrong, had the courage to take a stand in spite of possible consequences. Remember the old saying about ''if you stand for nothing, you'll fall for anything?'' I give you Exhibit A... a man who is running for president who has a nere 143 days of experience, but hey... who cares... he speaks well and looks good and it is ''hip'' to vote for the first black candidate. Isn't that all that matters when appearance is all you care about?
Anonymous | 10/27/2008 - 1:22am
I am not after the regulations, but I am after its effect. There’s nothing wrong with regulations like what Obama wants, as we all know, he is advocating an increased government regulation in the economy. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President of the United States in 1932, the year the country was spiraling into recession. Many people wonder if the future of our country is heading to the same economic disaster. Franklin Roosevelt's “New Deal” economic policies radically restructured the performance of the U.S. economy. Essentially, the government’s role in the economy expanded to a degree no one had ever seen. Roosevelt's policies provided the short-term relief that the country needed, but for the long-run, it can be argued that they caused significant long-term damage. In a Wall Street Journal article, Paul Rubin suggests that while the current state of the U.S. economy is not in the same state as it was back in 1932, the aspects and factors we see today are incredibly similar to the 1932’s economic crisis: stock market in a tailspin, credit markets locking down and Sen. Barack Obama, the leading Democratic presidential candidate, who is firmly running on a platform that will inject increased government regulations into problem areas like the economy. Supporters of a free market economy are concerned that Obama’s proposed governmental policies will lack the long-term direction America so desperately needs. Those who support the principles of capitalism will disagree that we’re better off than in 1932. Post Courtesy of Personal Money Store Professional Blogging Team Feed Back: 1-866-641-3406 Home: http://personalmoneystore.com/NoFaxPaydayLoans.html Blog: http://personalmoneystore.com/moneyblog/
Anonymous | 9/29/2008 - 1:43pm
The challenge being mounted against the statutory prohibition by Rev. Johnson and others should be seen for what it really is-an effort on the part of right-wing conservative Christians to impose their views by using the moral authority of the pulpit to control and manipulate voting blocs. I find it interesting that those of fundamentalist religious ideology have rarely appeared bothered by the "moral schizophrenia" exemplified by their silence during the civil rights struggles of the '50s and '60s and their routine failure to seriously examine the moral foundations of U.S. war policy. Rev. Johnson and those in his camp wish to create a society in which government is simply an institutional reflection of a peculiarly narrow brand of Christianity. In my opinion, this is antithetical to fundamental democratic principles and the rule of law.
Anonymous | 9/29/2008 - 8:54pm
"There is still plenty of racism despite laws against racial discrimination. Similarly, there will still be plenty of abortion should it come to pass that abortion be made illegal" Yes, and there is plenty of robbery despite laws against stealing, plenty of rape despite laws against sexual assault, and on and on and on. And who makes these laws but our government? The purpose of law isn't to change individual hearts, but to defend the common good, starting with the good of the individual. Yes, the law exists to deter the rapist, but more importantly to protect once and future victims of rape. It is no different in the pursuit of anti-abortion laws, which seek to defend the right of the unborn to live. But, ultimately, as Mark Stricherz noted on this blog last week, the legalization of abortion has absolutely driven abortion rates up in this country.
Anonymous | 9/29/2008 - 9:12am
"Additionally, in 1980, Democratic Congressman Father Robert Drinan was forced to resign his seat in Congress under pressure from Pope John Paul II who did not want priests in politics, unless it was Poland of course." Cute, Mr. Winters. I'm sure there would have been solid applause on your part for the late Holy Father had Fr. Drinan been a Republican Congressman. But your partisanship aside, your statement is factually incorrect. The Holy Father did not seek to banish involvement in politics by priests, but the holding of political office. Indeed, laity, priests, and bishops alike have an obligation to speak out on issues of morals and social justice. But when priests and bishops, who are pastors first and above all, run for office, they quickly lose that distinction. In the unfortunate case of Fr. Drinan, whose support for abortion rights, including partial birth abortion, was well known, the danger in priests seeking political office cannot be better exemplified.
Anonymous | 9/29/2008 - 4:20pm
Forget abortion, I'm now convinced that the pro-abortion candidate's support for the current public education system is probably a sin against truth as well.
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