Friday, October 4, 2013

Christianity And Political Activism

A blade which is designed both to shave and to carve, will certainly not shave so well as a razor or carve so well as a carving-knife. An academy of painting, which should also be a bank, would in all probability exhibit very bad pictures and discount very bad bills. A gas company, which should also be an infant-school society, would, we apprehend, light the streets ill and teach the children ill. -- Herbert Spencer, "Over-Legislation"
"At all times preach the Gospels. When necessary, use words." -- attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, but possibly apocryphal

If I were to "bundle" my disagreements with the Church into a single indictment, it would be that the Church regularly trespasses into inappropriate spheres to the detriment of its true mission. That mission -- the conservation and promulgation of the Gospels -- is so vitally important to the future of Mankind that no other consideration compares to it in even the smallest degree.

Clerics of every rank and denomination should understand and internalize this so thoroughly that a step beyond the Gospels should be reflexively rejected with prejudice. It shouldn't even require conscious thought. Yet the majority of the clerics I know and have known -- both Catholic and other Christian orders -- are immersed in politics, to the extent that their pulpits often come to resemble positions on some Sunday-morning talking-head show. Not only have they failed to internalize the supremacy of their mission; many of them appear to have rejected it.

This is bad for both the Church and the country. It's so obviously bad that it hardly requires elucidation. Yet the political beat from our pastors goes on, and no one seems able to halt it.

What Catholics in particular and Christians generally find in their rectories is far different.

The Gospels are the Christian faith and creed:

  • Not the letters of Saint Paul;
  • Not the prophecies of the Book of Revelations;
  • Not the visions of this or that much-feted saint;
  • And most certainly not the notions of any particular cleric.

Here is the Christian ethos, direct to us from the one and only Authority:

Now a man came up to him and said, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to gain eternal life?" He said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." "Which ones?" he asked. Jesus replied, "You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false witness, honor your father and mother and love your neighbor as yourself." The young man said to him, "I have kept all these; what do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." [The Gospel According To Matthew, 19:16-21]

Note that when the young man asked "what more," Christ did not add anything from Exodus or Leviticus to the commandments He had enunciated. He merely suggested that if the young man wished to be "perfect," he should take up the path of ministry Christ and His Apostles had elected. As this is not a requirement for salvation by any imaginable standard, the Noachite Commandments:

  • You shall not murder,
  • You shall not commit adultery,
  • You shall not steal,
  • You shall not give false witness,
  • Honor your father and mother,
  • And love your neighbor as yourself.

Buttressed by their foundation upon the two Great Commandments:

"You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and your whole soul, and your whole mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets." [Matthew 22:37-40]

...constitute the sole requirements God has laid upon Man.

The Ministry, Passion, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and Redeemer of Mankind, confirm His authority to pronounce the Law as it pertains to the life of Man. No lesser figure can contravene that authority, nor may he go beyond it, except to great confusion and destruction -- and until the Second Coming, "lesser figures" are all we have:

    "We are the vicars of Christ, Tony. Not Christ Himself. We struggle with the lightest of our duties, because He who defined them for us set a far higher standard than mere mortals could ever meet. But mere mortals are all we have. The Church must make do until the Second Coming."
    A sheen formed on the eyes of the man who had defined the priesthood for Tony Baldaserra.
    "Louis is unlike other men. You should know that, you've known him almost as long as I have. When his sister died, he was only fourteen years old, and he was already the brightest, most mature individual I knew. Today...Tony, he's challenged every notion I ever had about human limitations. I don't know what purpose God has in mind for someone so potent, but I do know that, whatever it is, it's something I could never fulfill. If you had to be more intelligent and more responsible than he is to advise him, who in the world could do it?
    "We who do God's work can't afford to compare ourselves to our brothers in Christ. Our ability to help them doesn't depend on our being brighter than they are, or more worldly wise, or even more moral. It depends on remaining humble, on holding fast to the eternal truths we've made the core of our lives, and reminding them of those truths when they lose their way. We have nothing else to offer, except love."

[A tendentiously selected source: Chosen One.]

So why are these "lesser figures," who have been formally ordained and charged with the sacred duty of conserving and promulgating the Gospels and nothing else, prattling about politics?

Have a glimpse at what a real Christian pastor should look like:

    Despite advancing age, Schliemann spurned all notions of retirement. He had a flock to tend, and by God, he would tend it.
    He had come to this parish after his ordination. He had baptized most of his parishioners, and had buried a comparable number, including several of his brothers in the cloth. The great majority of the Catholics of Onteora had known no other pastor in their lives. He would not surrender their care to any other man, no matter how capable, until he was forced to do so. He had even turned down elevation to monsignor, with a strong hint that a bishop's miter would be within his reach, to avoid a transfer out of Onteora.
    Occasionally his clerical colleagues would cluck their disapproval at him, hinting that his grip on his position smelled more of vanity than dedication. But they always dropped the subject when he scowled at them.
    Schliemann took his duties seriously. His vision of those duties was clear, and quite at odds with the notions of most newer priests. He had little patience for the social-activist clergymen, whatever their denomination. They seemed to want to make their churches into gathering places for the envious and self-pitying. They were infinitely willing to use politics to impose their visions of good upon others. Father Heinrich Schliemann led no marches, signed no petitions, and never talked politics. While the prelates of the American Church tacitly permitted the social-activist priests to convert the legacy of Saint Peter into a stained-glass staging area for the crusades of special interest groups, the pastor of Onteora parish remained exclusively a man of God.

[Yet another tendentiously selected source: On Broken Wings.]

This is uppermost in my thoughts today because I've just encountered the contrary suggestion from a pastor who has no excuse for not knowing better:

In this column last week, I stated the salient reasons why pastors will not take a public stand on issues regarded as controversial or political. I believe every point I made are the real reasons pastors refuse to stand for much of anything--or even objectively study anything outside their comfort zone....

To review, most pastors refuse to take a stand because:

1. They are success oriented and have an innate aversion to anything that is considered to be controversial. And, to them, there is nothing more controversial than politics.

If by "take a stand" Reverend Baldwin means "pronounce that a particular political position is the Christian position," he's dead wrong. Christ Himself separated Christianity from politics. But for Reverend Baldwin to get exactly the effect he'd like without politicizing our pulpits, all any pastor needs to say in response to some congregant's question about a political controversy, is:

"How does that comport with the Gospels?"

The Gospels, most particularly the segments I cited above, are an infallible guide to right and wrong -- and they make no exception for committees or governments.

And really, what other Authority does a Christian cleric have...or need?


KG said...

I particularly like "..a stained-glass staging area for the crusades of special interest groups"
There's a lot of that about, isn't there?

Weetabix said...

I'm of two minds on this one. People live in this world, of which politics is a given part. Politics is how we interact in larger groups than can sit down together.

I definitely agree that the clerics' first source should be the Gospels. I've often wondered at Protestants' obsession with Paul to the exlusion of the Gospels. Half the time, that second reading in Mass makes no sense to me, though I admire his ability to throw in an endeless concatenation of prepositional phrases to the greater glory of God, that Paul was chosen to repeat of our Lord Jesus Christ that when you try to diagram his sentence you can't find a subject or a verb... sorry.

Back to politics. I think it does behoove the clerics to speak about political topics IF they interpret them in strict accordance with the Gospels. It is their job as you mentioned to help us find our way if we lose it. It's particularly easy to lose your way in politics when secondary and tertiary consequences aren't considered and when the politicians have worked to conceal their true intent - Affordable Care Act?

My bishop does welĺ with that, if my parish priest does execrably.

I also think that clerics should push the idea that, you, personally, should be out there doing something for your brother rather than assuaging your conscience with the lie that because you voted to have a thug take someone else's money to give to someone that you wouldn't have in your parlor that you've "helped" someone, and thus you "care."

/disjointed rant

Anonymous said...

"The Dairy School required its boarding students to herd its cattle and operate its milk machines, a scheme which resulted in a substandard education and poorly cared for cows."

The Hotel New Hampshire