The Spiritual Landscape
Where's the Protestant Support for Catholic Bishops?
Cue the Protestant applause for Catholic Bishops? Not so fast. Not in progressive Protestant circles, anyway.
In our corner of the religious world, writers have argued that living with a certain amount of compromise is really just the way America rolls—that such a big, influential, well established institution can hardly say it's being persecuted, and that if you really want to know what the position of the Catholic Church on contraception is you should poll the American Catholic laity, not its bishops. Some have even privately suggested that the American bishops are trying to divert attention away from the pedophilia charges lodged against them.
You really need to twist your head and squint your eyes to make some of these arguments. And there is more than a hint of what Philip Jenkins describes as "the last acceptable prejudice"—i.e., the new Anti-Catholicism.
The statistics don't suggest that women are as much at odds with their church as some have argued. In any event, no one seriously believes that to find out what the official position of the United Methodist Church is that you by-pass Nashville, or—in the case of The Episcopal Church, that you ignore New York and poll Episcopalians.
There are similar problems with the other arguments: The complexity of our shared civic space is no case for capitulation. And size has nothing to do with the essential nature of persecution. It has to do with being subjugated by another power—and that's all about leverage, not size.
Then, again, tortured arguments against the Church's protest are all the arguments there are to make. The fact that Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, who is no raging conservative, fired not just the first, but the second set of shots across the administration's bow is testimony to just how badly the administration mauled religious freedom. And those who have an intimate knowledge of the constitutional issues have rightly argued that there is no other way to read the administration's decision.
What should be troubling to Protestants is that there aren't more people in our circle voicing support for the Catholic bishops. It is true that the intersection of secular government and religion poses peculiar tensions and the church cannot afford to treat the government as if it were a surrogate for Christian activity. But, for the same reason, no part of the church can afford to compromise its freedom to take specific religious positions—regardless of what other churches or even its own membership might think. The issue of precedent is at stake here, not just the specifics of this particular policy decision.
The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. is an Episcopal priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, and writer. He is the author of several books, including Conversations with Scripture: The Gospel of Luke (Morehouse, 2009) and What God Wants for Your Life (Harper One, 2005).