The One Choice Christians Refuse To Make
Practicing Catholicism in America is a labyrinth of conflict and faith.
I am both a Catholic and an American. I believe in the essential American principles, I believe in human rights, gender rights, women’s rights, racial justice, all citizens equal.
I also have tried to abide by my Catholic faith. That’s the greater challenge and I fail constantly. But if there’s any tenet I’ve gotten from my faith, it’s do not judge, do not throw stones, love your neighbor and leave the rest to God.
During the last two decades, following Scripture has not been the issue. Following priests is the issue. Priests made it impossible to go to Mass.
Priests made receiving Communion from their hands feel more like a sacrilege than a humble gesture. Dropping a donation into a collection basket felt more like a legal retainer than supporting good work. I made the wrenching choice to stop going to Mass. The hypocrisy of it all poisoned my practice, not my faith.
When I was much younger, politics were taboo in the Catholic Church. Particularly, in sermons. The church had its agenda, but the bishops took a more subtle route. The reason was straight-forward.
A person’s sin is between themselves and God. Confession was a most private place. Priests were vessels of God’s will. They took pains to say there was no personal judgement involved. Of course, that was impossible. Men are judging creatures. But to protect these delicate institutions, a facade was built and maintained. There was a privacy to one’s religious practice. The more overt Evangelicals were frowned upon.
In the Catholic Church, ancient ritual and prayer steered a neutral path to God. Silence is the great goal of all spiritual practice, and Catholic Cathedrals are drenched in silence. The concerns of the corporeal world are kept outside the walls of the Church. At least, that’s the tradition.
Jesus said Leave unto Ceasar what is Ceasar. That’s a perfectly clear idea. Our Founders insisted on the separation of church and state. Also clear.
So the choice is clear. A choice most Christians refuse to consider.
American governance is not about religion. And religion is not about governance. Maybe in Iran it is. Maybe in Afghanistan and Russia and China and Saudi Arabia. But the American Founders offered something unique. A safe harbor to worship as you choose. Or not worship at all.
To protect that harbor they built a precet directly from Scripture — there’s a Wall between Ceasar and God. Leave Ceasar to God’s judgement. Your religion is your business. American governance will not dictate your religious practice. But you cannot hold American governance to your religious practice. Your adherence to a faith does not create a special class of citizens to rule over all.
You can build orphanages to care for unwanted children. You can have prayer circles to beseech God’s Will. You can stand on a corner and evangelize. But you cannot write the laws of America to single out a single class of American citizens, no matter how offended they are to your private beliefs.
I believe it’s possible to serve our nation and to serve God without making a spectacle of your private beliefs. And if you don’t believe that, than the choice is crystal clear: Do not serve our country.
I cannot fathom any Constitutional decision that can in any way infringe on the private rights of citizens. Atheists have the same rights as Christians. That’s what we fought and died to protect. Our nation was founded in direct response to persecutions against religion.
Each citizen is granted the right to choose to live in any way they want, as long as they do no harm to others. That’s what it means to be an American. You do not have the right to say gay people don’t, or black people don’t, or women don’t. It’s none of your business. And none of the government’s business either.
Catholic Bishops in America, and the American Evangelical churches as well, are essentially excluding themselves from American governance. They can write no laws, they can pursue no legal actions, they can make no demands on politicians based on the private principle of their private faith. Abortion is not a litmus test because you cannot, if you adhere to Constitutional principles, write laws against a class of citizens. The answer to the dilemmas churches have about these matters is eliminate the dilemma. Advise your flock to not hold public office.
When I hear priests and preachers, media celebrities, and most alarmingly, politicians advocating proscribed rights based on the principles of their religion, I see an anti-American voice raised in direct conflict with the founding laws of our nation. I can’t think of anything more un-American than saying we must live by the tenets of a citizen’s privately held belief.
You most certainly can be president of this nation and be a Catholic. How you navigate that choice is between you and your God. That’s the guarantee in our Constitution.
In those terms, bishops can make a private choice not to serve Communion. As a Catholic, I’ve serious issues with a bishop stepping between a person and God. I don’t see bishops as gods. And I don’t believe such private religious matters must be aired in the public square. It’s a direct route from public debate of religious matters to beheading of people who refuse to adhere to a particular creed. The Founders knew exactly what they were doing.
This aggressive move into politics by religions is accompanied by empty pews and shuttered church doors. It’s hard not to see the newfound political fervor of American bishops as some kind of complex atonement for condoning perdophilia. By tearing down walls between the affairs of the world and the affairs of God, they also tear down the sanctuary of the Church. Jesus knew the dangers. Our reckless bishops have disregarded the power of prayer in favor of the power of the ballot box, and in the process done great harm to the sanctity of faith.