Politics, Religion and Lilies That Fester

To Dolan or not to Dolan? That was the question.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan and his offer to pray the Benediction at the two political conventions were all the news a few weeks ago.

It seems that he offered to pray at both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. The Republicans, who are sharper tacks all around when it comes to currying religious political favor, answered with an immediate yes and then used their publicity machine to spread the word.

They made the most of the fact that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the head of all the bishops in these United States, was going to dip his vote-getting toe into their little pond. In their glee over what they obviously wanted to play into a de facto endorsement by the Catholic Church, they did everything but put out press releases saying, “We bagged the big guy!”

The Democrats, on the other hand, dissed the good Cardinal and his attempt at bi-partisan even-handedness by not even bothering to reply when he offered to pray the benediction at their convention. Their message, which was equally loud and clear, was “We don’t need no traditional Christians.”

It would have stayed like that if the Republican publicity machine hadn’t set off a mini-firestorm with its announcements. It looked, as the Rs intended, like Cardinal Dolan was playing favorties between the two political parties. Gloating Republicans slapped him on the metaphorical back while outraged Dems denounced him for being a partisan political hack.

Forced to defend himself, he explained that he had offered to pray at both conventions, and the Republicans had accepted his offer. The Democrats, on the other hand, had not even acknowledged it.

The officials who run the Democratic Party evidently had their heads stuck so far up their own militant secularism that it took them a couple of days to figure out that this wasn’t the big vote-getter they had originally believed. This gave time for the whole thing to become the church-state fight du jour.

Cardinal Dolan, and through him the Catholic Church, became one of the many bones of contention that allow the two political parties to chew on one another in their never-ending quest to get to 51% of the electoral vote.

After a few days of dealing with public indignation over this bit of hubris, the Ds evidently decided that maybe one itty bitty prayer wouldn’t compromise them all that much. Cardinal Dolan and his benediction were a pill they would swallow.

The two political parties want slightly different things from the Church. The Republicans want control of the Church’s moral voice so that they can use that voice to win elections. The Democrats, who have given up on using the Church’s moral voice, want to silence the Church, and, as much as possible, strip it of all its ministries.

Both parties want to bend the Church to their purpose and their will. The Republicans want to do this by patronizing the Church. The Democrats by attacking it. The result in both instances would be to slice and dice the Church down to an equally voiceless political carcass to be fed on and ignored.

That is precisely what the Rs and the Ds have done to every other denomination who has worked with either one of them. The so-called liberal Christian denominations and the so-called “evangelical” or “conservative” denominations have both carved up the Gospels to suit their politics. We expect certain denominations to give us a hatched up phony Gospel supporting corporatism, and the economic rape of the American people. We know that certain other denominations are going to come blaring in with their truncated Gospel supporting abortion on demand and same-sex marriage.

We expect it. We know it’s coming. And truth be told, this weary wariness of what are obviously bogus claims to holiness on the part of these denominational-leaders-political-operatives is a big part of what is driving the ugly secularism that is developing in this country. We just don’t believe these guys are speaking for anybody but themselves.

These religious leaders have so destroyed the Gospels on which they stand in order to fit in with their political crowd that they are useless and shorn. They don’t have a moral and prophetic voice left.

The only denomination I’ve seen that has stood against this, the only voice that has refused to edit the gospels down to a political convenience in the name of getting their boy elected is the Catholic Church.

My great fear is that the pressures of fighting these fights against the out-of-control secularism and social nihilism that are tearing at our society will erode the Catholic Church’s determination to stay clear of politics and follow the Gospels. I am afraid that the Church will allow itself to become another bite of power in the maw of these two political parties. I dread the day on which the Catholic Church’s moral and prophetic voice is cast before political swine. I dread it to my core; not only for my Church, but for my country.

I hope and pray that I will never hear the American Bishops endorse a political candidate or a political party. As a Democrat, the way my party treated Cardinal Dolan disgusted me. If I had any remaining ability to be ashamed of my party, I would be ashamed of them. If I was a Republican, I would be equally ashamed of them, for different reasons.

I have seen the way that Republican office-holders treat the religious leaders who pushed to get them elected once they are in office. I have also seen those same religious leaders cow-tow to the elected officials and back down on the very moral issues that they say prompted them to be politically involved in the first place. It is an ugly and disillusioning thing to have to watch.

I don’t know how to be cynical enough about both these two political parties. I try, but my cynicism just can’t keep up with them.

I am not cynical about my Church. I go to mass and touch Jesus in the Eucharist and I am healed. There’s no way to be cynical about that.

I understand that the bishops are trying their best to defend the Church in what is an unprecedented attack in the HHS Mandate. I understand how grave this is. I also know, sadly, that both parties want the Mandate, each for their own reasons.

The Mandate helped the Republicans bag the big guy. It is probably why more and more Catholics are switching from Democrat to Republican. I think it is why the Democrats rudely ignored Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s generous offer to pray at their convention. Both parties are playing to their base, and right now their lead violin is the Catholic Church.

The only church that the politicians I know still respect at all is the Catholic Church. I think there are two reasons for this. First, the Catholic Church is big. It represents millions of votes. Second, neither party has succeeded in getting the Church to edit the Gospels to suit their politics. The Catholic Church still calls both parties to task when they violate the teachings of Christ. The same Pope who refuses to bend the Church’s 2,000-year-old teaching on the sanctity of human life also refuses to support neo-con goals of corporate dominance and the endless wars of empire. I don’t know of any other church that does this.

There’s an old saying in politics; keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. The Church is the enemy of both the Democrats and the Republicans for the simple reason that it has, at least until now, refused to be co-opted by either of them. Politicians want to control, to co-opt groups and organizations and turn their purposes to the politician’s use. That is what the Republicans have succeeded in doing with a large number of denominations and what they are currently trying to do with the Catholic Church.

If they can’t control and co-opt, then politicians try to strip the person or group of power and influence so that they can’t give them any trouble in the future. It’s the classic “you’re either with me or against me” scenario played out in terms of budget items, regulations and laws. That is what the Democrats are trying to do to the Catholic Church right now. They have, as their Republican counter-parts have, managed to co-opt a large number of denominations; to get them to interpret the Gospels in ways that favor Democratic party goals. But they’ve given up on ever being able to turn the Catholic Church to their purposes.

Enter the HHS Mandate, the refusals to give grants to Church organizations who won’t refer for abortion and all the other ugliness we’ve seen and will continue to see.

The bottom line here is that neither political party is anybody’s friend. Nobody’s. Not yours. Not mine. And certainly not any church that preaches and teaches the Gospels of Christ.

Do we need the Church to step up and be the prophetic voice of God in our society? Oh my, yes we do. We need them more now than ever before.

But the very fact that we need them so badly is a reflection of what choppy water they are going to encounter as they do this. Our culture is trapped in a downward spiral. It is disassembling itself morally, spiritually and economically. Only the truth of the Gospels can equip the American people to save themselves from themselves. We need revival, but we will never get it from anyone less than a true follower of Jesus Christ.

Politics and politicians have to be engaged. We live in a democracy, which makes involvement in politics our duty as well as our right. But our god must be God, not our political parties.

Too many good people have been led astray  by bad shepherds who have taken the R or the D for their god, and have taught us to do the same. These religious leaders have become false prophets and failed shepherds who lead the flock astray. They are like Shakespeare’s lilies, who, when they fester, stink far worse than weeds. One failed religious leader does more damage than many militant secularists.

My humble suggestions to the bishops, and any other religious leader who is thinking about involving themselves in politics, are these:

1. Never, never, never compromise the Gospels of Christ for any political party. Call the Republicans out on their economic policies and blast away at the Democrats for their attacks on the sanctity of human life and marriage. Don’t compromise the gospels for these birds. Please.

2. Be prepared to be disliked, pandered to and, if the pandering fails, accused and abused. The world does not like real Christians. It never has.

3. Let the laity be the ones to slug it out in the political trenches, but arm us with good teaching and absolute fidelity to Christ so that we may do it well. Teach us. Lead us. Inspire us.

The Catholic Church is the only effective moral and prophetic voice left in this country. My plea to Cardinal Dolan and all the bishops is please, don’t allow my Church to become another religious political pawn.

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  • Arkenaten

    This post is a tad too long even for me. But the fault lies with Cardinal Dolan.
    What the heck is he doing offering to Pray for the political parties, for heaven’s sake?
    As an atheist I would be strongly against having any religious leader at a political convention.
    And if you are going to have one then, heck fire, let’s parade them all out. Including an Iman.
    This is why in SA we will have none of this thank you very much.
    Mind you, didn’t the Pharisees allow the money changers in the Temple!
    If the Politicians want god…any god let them go and visit the religious leaders. Not the other way around.
    Good for the Democrats for not even responding.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Douglas, I’m hoping that the discussion on this particular post will not be dominated by you. I’d like to see a serious discussion of the issues. So, I’m going to ignore you for now, and I hope others will too.

      • Arkenaten

        LOL…No problem. I’m busy working on a slightly more important document anyhow, just popping over to see who’s feet are being roasted at the fire’s of religious indignation.
        I’ll just listen to Jimi Hendrix play Star Spangled Banner, munch my sandwich and cheer from the sidelines. :)

    • Ted Seeber

      Just because you are blind to the supernatural (and willfully so) does not mean that everybody is.

      • Arkenaten

        I was asked not to hog this post, but for you, Ted, I will make an exception.
        Jimi Hendrix was not supernatural, although his playing was of out of this world.
        Django Rhinhardt, Wes Montgomery and Mozart, also.
        I’m afraid the Pat Boones of the woirld don’t make the grade, Ted. Sorry old sport.

        • Ted Seeber

          You listen, but you fail to hear.

          • Arkenaten

            Oh, I have listened – and heard- Pat Boone, Ted. Just not my cup of tea, that’s all.
            Doesn’t mean you can’t listen…and hear, him. You go for it. Maybe you think his voice is supernatural? Give me Sara Vaughn.

            • Ted Seeber

              There is a voice that is supernatural and it ain’t Pat Boone you’re ignoring.

              • Arkenaten

                “There is a voice that is supernatural and it ain’t Pat Boone you’re ignoring.”

                Ah….in that case….
                “…moantain lions found me there waiting
                and sent me off on a eagle’s wing an eagle’s wing baby
                he took me past the outskirts of infinity
                and when we came back he gave me Venus to sing hey
                and he said fly on fly on cause I’m a

                Jimi Hendrix.
                Now that’s what I call a supernatural voice, Ted.

                • Ted Seeber

                  Only if you prefer drug abusers to truth.

              • Arkenaten

                Truth? You haven’t told me any yet?

  • Virginia

    How do you manage to write a home run post just 2 days after surgery? I hope all went well and that you recover quickly. I’m sure you will have a post about last night’s debate. As for me, I’m not sure I have the stomach to watch the last one next week. This is a very discouraging election for me–with the one exception that we have a clear choice in one House of Representatives race here in New Mexico. Time for me to get involved in that one and try to have more input there than in the Presidential election.

    I, too, hope that the Bishops never endorse a particular candidate or party. But they need to keep preaching the Gospel so that Catholics in the pews have no excuse for not seeing the bad planks in BOTH party platforms and understanding why some of those planks are ALWAYS more rotten than others.

    Thanks for all you do, Rebecca.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Virginia. In truth, I was so groggy from pain meds when I wrote this I had to ask someone else to read it to make sure it made sense. It’s so gratifying to me that you think it does! :-)

  • http://mywordwall.wordpress.com Imelda

    This post is very insightful and true. With you, I pray that the Church stand its ground – it is serving far far greater interests than a political party. May it continue to proclaim the truth, bravely, uncompromisingly, because only in that way will the Church, the institutional Church, be able to remain the moral and spiritual beacon that it is.

    People say that the Church should not interfere with the secular affairs of a country, the State. I do not agree. One Filipino cardinal, Cardinal Sin, who more than once dipped his finger into Philippine politics, said that the Church and State run along parallel lines. The same people governed by the State are also those whom the Church seek to shepherd and lead. Hence, the Church should be vigilant about secular matters that have a profound effect on the souls and faith of the people.

    Now, granting that not everyone is a Catholic, should the Church then lay-off because the non-Catholics are none of Her business? I know that this has been the reason for many Catholics’ refusal to champion Church positions in public. Yet, the Church has a bigger purpose than serving our earthly affairs. Before her duty to us, is Her duty to God. I guess here lies the greater reason for the Church to hold steadfast in its moral positions because at the end of the day, the Church is serving the Eternal Master above all.

    Well, I am sorry to have rambled on. :)


  • Mary

    It’s a good post, Rebecca…thank you….
    I’m left wondering if you will cast a vote for President.
    I am still very undecided. I’m trying to focus on local and state decisions, watch the debates and pray…

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Mary, this is the worst year I remember so far as our choices for president. One thing we all need to remember is that the presidential election is not the only thing on the ballot. There are some important questions out there, as well as other races that really matter.

  • http://hollydaze-holly.blogspot.com Holly murphy

    Excellent blog. Shared it on my fb page. Does it really matter what party the candidate claims if they stand for upholdng the constitution…that should be the only barometer. If they all do that, then we can quibble about issues based on our preferences. That’s democracy…

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thanks Holly.

  • Peg

    Excellent post and perfect length! Take heart at least they haven’t yet fed us to the physical lions. I hope folks will look at the third parry candidates and not let others tell them they are throwing their votes away. That will just keep fostering the two party domination. Clinton owes his first term to Perot. We should also be demanding that these other parties be included in the debates.

    We have to really work harder at the parish and diocesan levels for catholic orthodoxy and unity and support our Bishops when they take those tough stands on unpopular issues. I have watched our “letters” section in our catholic paper be overrun with heated political brawls. So much for Christ and love your “enemies. They stopped printing that section. Both sides are guilty and the Devil wins as half the country points fingers at the other half.

    I’m holding out hope for Dolan. He’s a hometown boy just like the baseball cardinals David Freese. Last year in Game 6 every one of my homeboy prayers were answered for Freese and Jesus knows I am hoping for the same batting record for my Cardinal Dolan prayers.

    Dolan’s benediction at the DNC accomplished a lot of good. Truthwas finally and eloquently spoken to millions. I know he was cut off by the networks but seeds were planted. So many evangelicals told me how inspired they were, many of whom I have felt are duped by not only pastors but factually distorted email chains and Glenn Beck and other neo cons. They are opening up to catholic views on life issues and other differences. These rallies are bringing folks together too.

    I do worry that Dolan is too chummy with Ryan who concerns me but maybe he will convince him to replace his Ayn Rand collection with more positive orthodoxy. I can’t shake this feeling that Dolan is exactly where God wants him and will disarm the enemy and win followers with his cheerful demeanor and clear faith.

    These are saint making times to be sure and we just all need to get in the game. If the cardiac St. Louis cardinals can do it our Catholic church can even more. Back to training with the rosary for me. Cheers

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Peg, I agree with all you wrote, but this resonated especially “We have to really work harder at the parish and diocesan levels for catholic orthodoxy and unity and support our Bishops when they take those tough stands on unpopular issues.”

      That’s so true. My feelings about Cardinal Dolan are the same as yours.

      Thanks for this great comment.

  • Pingback: What’s Good (& Bad) About the Mixture of Faith & Politics in America? Conservative & Liberal Faith Leaders Face-Off | News

  • jerry lynch

    To summarize: we are “citizens of heaven.” This is not a figurative title but the actuality of our existence. Christ offers the only freedom. Partisan politics is to be at enmity with God.

  • pastordo

    I’m afraid you may be mistaken Rebecca. It was an excellent post except for the claim that the Catholic church is the only one that calls both parties to task on moral issues. Unless I am mistaken, and that is certainly possible, I don’t recall Nancy Pelosi being called to task for her support of abortion. I don’t mean she hasn’t been criticized. But so what! No one in the church hierarchy has withheld communion from her. I believe it has been threatened, but no action has been taken. Same thing happened with Ted Kennedy. And no one has even threatened excommunication. So how exactly have any of them been ‘called to task’? By criticism from bishops and cardinals? It obviously hasn’t affected the liberal Catholics in Congress in how they act? They still are all out for abortion. They still keep getting re-elected.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      I was talking about the teachings of the Church and what I’ve seen at the Capitol. The Catholic Church is the ONLY church I’ve seen that is willing to call the Democrats to task over pro life and turn around the same day and call the Republicans to task over the poor or immigrants or women or any number of other things. They don’t toady; either to the left or the right. They are also the only Church I’ve seen that won’t let politicians push them around and force them to abandon their beliefs.

      As for whether or not Nancy Pelosi or any other public figure has been told not to take communion, my understanding is that the only way we’d know is if she decided to say so. I am not a theologian or a priest, so what I’m about to say could be wrong. But my understanding is that this is normally a pastoral matter rather than a matter for publicity. I think the way it goes is that the bishop, archbishop or cardinal in whose diocese the public person lives has a responsibility to talk to the person and explain that they are out of communion with the Church by what they do. Then, they would ask them to change their ways. Only if the person refuses or remains obstinate would that move to the archbishop, bishop or cardinal to advise them that they should stop taking communion. I have read about bishops advising priests in their diocese to withhold communion from a person, but I don’t have any idea if this is required. My understanding, from politicians who have been through this, is that it stays entirely between them and the bishop unless the politician decides to go public.

      It does happen. As I said, I know people who’ve had their bishops talk to them about issues like this. But from what little I know, it usually is a private pastoral matter and not something a bishop would announce.

      I do know of one instance where a bishop in a northern state made a public announcement about several people in his diocese, including one who said he had not discussed it with her beforehand. But this caused a lot of criticism of the bishop. I also know of bishops who go off and announce that some politician who lives far from them may not take communion in their diocese if they show up there. I don’t know what to make of these things, considering my scanty knowledge of the whole deal.

      Also, when your shepherd, which is your bishop, cardinal or archbishop in the diocese where you live makes an announcement that Catholics should refrain from communion if they have an abortion or support abortion or rob banks or commit adultery or whatever, that is a sort of blanket warning that you are excommunicated if you do these things, at least until you stop doing them and go to confession. It’s something of an honor system, since no one knows your intention or even what you’ve done. That is true of politicians, as well, which is why bishops are slow to do this to anyone. However, you can be sure that God knows, and if you persist in deliberate evil of this magnitude and then go ahead and take communion, you are indeed heaping coals on your own head.

      What I don’t believe anyone has seen is a Catholic Bishop preaching and teaching that whole chapters of the Gospel are non sequitur and don’t apply to today’s world. I’ve never known a Catholic Bishop to drop kick the Sermon on the Mount OR the Ten commandments. Every politicized denomination I’ve seen at the Capitol where I work except the Catholics does this all the time. They’ll flat-out tell you that abortion is right or impoverishing people for corporations is moral. I’ve even heard them say that it is immoral to oppose these things. I have also personally witnessed denominational leaders back down and apologize for daring to demand that pro life politicians actually vote pro life. I’ve never known a Catholic Bishop who behaved like that.

      I want to say again that I’m not very knowledgeable about this whole business of withholding communion. I’m basically telling you what I know by listening to other people talk about what happened to them and from reading about it. Anyone who has better info, please feel free to fill in the blanks.

      As for my statement that the Catholic Church is the only one who has stood for the whole Gospel, that is what I have seen. Every other denomination that has involvement in politics that I know of has edited their teachings to fit their politics.

  • http://none Bobtr900

    I understand Hamilton’s article and her positions, she makes some good points. But she is really drinking the Vatican-church/ clergy/GOP/Mary Ann Glendon/Gingrich, etc ‘kool-aid’.
    Hamilton seems to have forgotten that John Paul II and now BXVI have put themselves AND the church in service to the GOP values, ethics and goals of money, money, money and profits, done at any and all costs. (the ‘Gospel of Prosperity’).
    —- The Dems did NOT do that!!! —- In fact, one can easily make the argument that they and the 47% (actually the 99.99%) have been victimized by the GOP and the church through the Religious Right(pope(s) Pat Robertson, Falwell(dec.) Southern Baptist Convention, etc, etc, etc. THEY, who USE God and religion for political/money/power purposes and American Exceptionalism. I truly hope the Dems never do that!
    Also, one can very easily ask the question: are these two pope(s) also about money and power(obedience— pay pray and obey). Also the question: after 30+ yrs are the popes so simple minded and shallow/shortsighted that they cannot see???
    JPII aligned with the incredible shallowness of the GOP, secular consumerism, the god (small G) given rule and rights of the Super Rich (divine right of kings like this incredible worship of the Super Rich{Reagan, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, Austrian economic thought, the Univ. of Chicago School of Economics(evidenced by the actions of a great many deadly leaders in the very Catholic very poverty stricken Latin nations as evinced and evidenced by –Pinochet, the Duvaliers, etc, who killed millions to “stop Communism” (Iran-Contra) when all the popes actually had to do is to … “bless the Communist nations…” per the BVM ). IOW, what I’m saying is that it’s really NOT about Pro-life and Family Values issues at all. it’s REALLY ALL about MONEY and POWER.
    This entire mess—the devaluing of God— didn’t begin with Reagan and God, gays, guns and abortion, it actually began with Sen. Joe McCarthy(Communism, Marxism, Socialism) and before that with/at the inception of the GOP in the mid 1850s.
    The GOP is ALL and TOTALLY about smashing families and life and the destruction of religion, only FOR PROFITS/MONEY. It is NOT and NEVER has been about jobs. Jobs for people is a false chimerical machination of Rove and Luntz.
    That’s why I no longer vote for any Republicans—I used to shame on me— and their war/kill/death on Pro-life and Family Values. Let me say once again this entire 30+year mess, orderly life the common good, etc. It is about the GOP and it’s anarchist hate for government, rules and regulations and love of wild west cowboy economics and endless hate for everyone who is not just exactly like them. Some of us actually believe that people are more important than THINGS, like money, power, Giant Corporations(oil, Wall St, BIG Pharma, etc) institutions, wars, economics, GE, etc.
    Sorry for the lack of tight editing. Apologies for the rant. It’s been a long and very tiring day as I contemplate my second election that my vote has been taken away from me by the GOP (Kasich—it’s just one of their 15 strategies for winning/stealing elections, ) and the RRs, after 47yrs of voting. Little things like that anger me. (sarcasm) .
    And finally, exactly why is the pope playing up to the Communist Chinese abortion ridden government and their policies of death and communist economics??? Just asking!
    I now vote for only Dems. Even though they are still stumbling and disorganized after these past 30+ years, ever since JPII got elected.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      First, I don’t think the Catholic Church has abandoned the poor to toady to the GOP. I do think that the GOP has taken positions on a couple of major issues that are more consistent with the Church’s teaching than the Dems. On the other hand, the Ds have taken positions on other issues that are more in line with Church teaching than the Rs.

      Both political parties are liars. And both political parties are in the bag to the corporate powers. The difference is a matter of degree. The Rs are totally the creature of the corporate powers. I’ve seen them up close long enough to know that this is the ONLY value that they will consistently support. If the money brokers want something, then everything else, including those positions such as pro life and traditional marriage are tossed aside. I’ve seen them do it.

      The Ds, on the other hand, are partially in the bag to corporate interests. That is, they still push for things that benefit corporations to the damage of America and the American people, just as the Rs do, but they also try to benefit the American people, as well. Their inflexible social issue, “choice” is aligned more closely to the corporate interests by virtue of interlocking boards and long-time alliances. What I’m saying is “choice” is a rich-man’s pet.

      Frankly, I think anyone who blindly votes for a political party and expects the world to get better is missing the point. These political parties will destroy us if we let them.