Monday, August 21, 2006

Another Example from the Right (?)

Our local paper, the Rockford, IL Register-Star carried a story by staff reporter Pat Cunningham with the following headline: "Reactions mixed to bishop's swipe at Democrats". It seems that the Bishop of the Rockford diocese, Thomas Doran, wrote an article for the diocesan newspaper that, while not naming the Democratic Party specifically, wrote (in an excerpt printed by the Register-Star): "We know . . . that adherents on one political party would place us squarely on the road to suicide as a people." The holy bishop then named "[t]he seven 'sacraments' of their secular culture [which] are abortion, buggery [!], contraception, divorce, euthanasia, feminism of the radical type and genetic experimentation and mutilation." The bishop then says that "[t]heir (I'm assuming here he means the Democratic Party, although he never uses the term explicitly) continuance in public office is a clear and present danger to our survival as a nation. . ." In a later paragraph he calls them "the party of death".
First of all, just as a matter of law, I believe (while I am no lawyer and certainly no expert) that the bishop's refusal to use the words "Democratic Party" keep the diocese safe from IRS investigation of violation of their tax-free status, I nevertheless find it incredible that a clergyperson, of any denomination, would skate so close to the edge of partisan politics, an edge that threatens to swamp their privileged position as exempt from taxation. Of course, the Christian Co-alition engaged in such partisan politicking in the 1990's, but they were under constant IRS scrutiny. The Roman Catholic Church, historically, has understood the clear border between issue and party advocacy, and has been a refreshing example of how religious groups should engage politically, even if you don't always agree with the positions the advocates hold. This "indiscretion" (to be polite), especially coming from a bishop, is incredible.
More to the point, following on recent posts and thoughts about the right and wrong ways for churches to engage politically, and the effects upon churches by political involvement, it is clear that a combination of a narrow focus on a handful of issues combined with too close an association with one major party has created a situation where all perspective has been lost. I am aware that the Republican Party advocates positions on a number of issues that dovetail with Roman Church teaching (and with a number of other churches as well). It has reached the point, however, where that association has led a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church to forget something that should, if he had but given it a moment's thought, should be obvious: it is not that the Democrats are the "party of death", and therefore the Republicans are the "party of life" (by default); rather, politics itself, because it is about the attaining and use of power, invariably involved the abuse of power and threats to life, regardless of party.
The Republicans advocate the end of abortion, obviously. The President has severely restricted access to stem cell lines and Congress has restricted funds for embryonic stem cell research. These points are true. Thay have also engaged in a war of questionable legality and certainly of dubious efficacy, resulting in thousands of American deaths and tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths. The President has shown no compassion at all, and is an earnest and vocal advocate of the death penalty, an issue certainly dear to the hearts of the previous Pope, who was not silent on the American fascination with eliminating convicted criminals. On these two issues alone, it might seem that to claim one party alone deserves the mantle "party of death" is not only misguided, but intellectually dishonest and simply untrue.
The Republican exploitation of Catholic (and other denominational) teaching on the sanctity of human life for political advantage has created a situation where there is no longer an attempt at evenhandedness by churches and religious groups in their political activity. This is an object lesson of the results of too close an association with a political party by a church.
Politics is a ruthless, nasty business, a necessary evil if you will. Church groups, as part of society have a privilege and a duty to speak out when politics becomes threat to those things they hold as sacred. They must remember, however, that politics is a game that, too often, involves a calculation of human life that is, shall we say, less than highest on the scale of values. It is not the Democratic Party that is the party of death; rather, politics itself is a game that very often, perhaps too often, is the game of life and death.


At 3:26 PM, Blogger Michael Bindner said...

As a Catholic the actions of this bishop sicken me. They also make me curious about the intentions of the Church in this area. One could argue that they are being consistent with Humanae Vitae. One can also argue that they are aligning themselves with other authoritarian religious figures, ones that match their own temprament. One might also wonder if perhaps this is part of a plan to coopt the Evangelical right wing in hopes of bring it back into unity with Rome.

At 6:07 PM, Blogger Progressive Christian said...

All of those are a possibility. The part about co-opting the Evangelical Right to bring it back to Rome has been bandied about, by anti-Catholic protestants for two decades, not as a political possibility, but as a religious danger. There is too much history dictating against such a thing happening. Actually, I think Bishop Doran simply spoke from his heart what he believes; the problem, of course, is that he suffers from political and ethical myopia, a disorder I am advocating against for a stirring religious left.


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