But Leave it There

I respected the woman speaking to me. She and I had the same background, shared most of the same beliefs. But we were at odds that day. She looked at me with the hot-eyed stare of a person who is not to be reasoned with and pointed her finger at me to emphasize her words.

“You can go to church as much as you want,” she said, “but leave it there.”

She was angry with me because I had passed a bill that, among other things, required unemancipated minors to either get parental consent or a judicial bypass before elective abortions.

The abortion wars destroy friendships in politics, and my friendship with this lady was ending over this bill. I could have said a lot of things to her that day, but I sensed some deep wound driving her anger, and I didn’t want to hurt her. So, I held my tongue. I knew as I walked away that this woman who had been my friend was now my enemy.

I also knew that her request that I leave my faith in the church pews was both arrogant and common. Accusations that people who believe in the sanctity of human life are trying to “legislate their religion,” or that they want to “build a theocracy” are standard commentary from the other side of the debate.

I try my best to never reply in kind. I don’t call people who favor legal abortion names. I don’t attack them for slips of the tongue or research their personal lives looking for sexual peccadilloes, embarrassing photos from long-past fraternity parties or ugly divorce testimony.

I do all I can to let them have the low road if they want it so much and keep my focus on the one thing I care about in all this, which is my simple belief that it is wrong to kill people. I won’t use my job to kill people. And I won’t help anyone else kill them, either. I know that sounds almost comically simple. But adhering to it in a legislative environment can get you cursed, reviled, slandered, picketed and, yes, advised to leave your faith at church.

I’ve been getting these demands that I be a sham Christian for years. Go to church all you want. We don’t care. But leave it there. The people who say this are usually in a froth of self-righteousness when they do it. They can look at you with such hatred that it almost scorches your skin. And they almost always toss in a canard about “separation of church and state” to give dignity to what is in reality an outrageous thing to say.

It’s ironic. People are always accusing politicians of being hypocrites, but in this instance we have a large segment of the population actually demanding it of them.

“Go to church all you want, but leave it there” has nothing at all to do with separation of church and state. There is nothing in the First Amendment that says that elected officials may not reference their personal religious and moral beliefs in the decisions they must make.

I don’t believe this lady was worried about separation of church and state. I think she wanted me to live and vote according to her beliefs rather than my own. That’s the core of these attacks. It’s that you’re not doing what they want you to, and attacking you with bogus nonsense about separation of church and state and building a theocracy sounds better than just pitching a fit and saying “Do what I tell you or else!”

Unfortunately, this line of reasoning has advanced far beyond me and what an angry lady said to me in the hallway outside the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Today we have the Health and Human Services Department of the United States Government telling the largest religious denomination in America virtually the same thing and backing it up with what amounts to a draconian threat.

Teach what you want from the pulpit they tell the Church. But if you don’t bend to the government and violate those same teachings in your institutions, we will fine and penalize you out of business. That’s the gist of the HHS Mandate compelling the Catholic Church to provide insurance coverage for birth control and abortifacients for the employees of its institutions.

What it all comes down to is that the Federal Government is telling the Catholic Church “Say mass as much as you want. But leave it there.”

And, yes, this time it really is a violation of separation of church and state.

  • http://dgcree.wordpress.com dgcree

    How true !

  • http://mcdermottfootcare.wordpress.com McDermott Footcare

    Hello Rebecca. For some reason WordPress won’t let me switch to my 8kidsandabusiness.com blog so I’m commenting from my business blog. Thanks for stopping by 8kidsandabusiness and liking my post, God Come To My Assistance. I can relate to your post about leaving religion at home since I’ve had the same type of comments in a professional setting. I’m writing about this for National Nurses Week in Canada. Would you mind if I reference you and link to this post. I think what you have to say about this is important. I will be following your blog with much interest. Thanks!

    • http://publiccatholic.wordpress.com Rebecca Hamilton

      I fear this problem is becoming widespread and many people are being told to be silent about their faith in Christ in this way.

      I would be flattered if you referenced my blog. Please feel free to do so.

      Best wishes for you and your work.

      Rebecca

  • abcinsc

    Reblogged this on The Peanut Gallery.

  • http://perceptionoverjudgment.wordpress.com perceptionoverjudgment

    I am so sorry that this happened to you.
    I really like how you handled the situation — with immense grace and dignity. You held true to your values regarding how to treat people.
    Your post is very insightful. Thank-you for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

  • http://publiccatholic.wordpress.com Rebecca Hamilton

    Thank you.

  • http://wonderingaboutthechurch.wordpress.com wanderingaboutthechurch

    I suspect that one of the reasons people on th eopposing side of any point of view cannot truly hear and consider the other side is the simple reality that communikcation is more of an emotional process than a cerebral one. Fear lies behind anger atf anything or anyone with a different view and the couopling of those two emotions plug the ears of our minds and hearts as surely as the best sound reducing devices on the market. I confess that I am beginning ot see this in myself as well as others. I’m also beginning to ponder the power of storytelling with playfulness and humor to break through the walls of anyone who is slightly motivated to listen.

  • http://publiccatholic.wordpress.com Rebecca Hamilton

    What you say has a great deal of truth in it. Humor has always been a way to say things that couldn’t be said any other way. Unfortunately, much of what passes for humor in our current culture is far too often cruel. Gentle humor on the other hand is something we need far more of.

  • http://christiancopingwithsuicide.wordpress.com Christian Coping with Suicide

    Rebecca – you are fighting the good fight with great dignity. Don’t let it get you down. You handled yourself in a difficult sitution with grace and dignity and still upheld the sanctity of human life. God Bless You.

  • http://publiccatholic.wordpress.com Rebecca Hamilton

    Thank you, and God bless you in your walk.

  • LovedOne

    It’s unfortunate that people think that we can leave our faith to the side. Truth is everyone has a set of values and beliefs and that’s how we view the world – we try to make sense through that lens. So sorry to hear you had this experience, but you handled it very well.

    • http://publiccatholic.wordpress.com Rebecca Hamilton

      Thanks for your nice comment.

  • http://janasnyder.wordpress.com janasnyder

    I applaud your willingness to walk away in grace rather than to stay and fight. I would gently caution you, however, about guessing at the motives of others. She may in fact really care about the separation of church and state, but just not understand what that means. Or, maybe it’s not so much about “vote my way” as it is a history of experiencing meanness or abuse from the church. But again, I SO appreciate your decision to deliberately hold your tongue when you could see argument was pointless. If more Christians did that, the Church might have a better reputation.

  • http://publiccatholic.wordpress.com Rebecca Hamilton

    Thanks Jana. Christians serve a living Lord Who taught us to tread gently on other people’s hearts. The fact that some Christians behave in opposite ways is a function of them NOT following Christ, but following the fashions of our times, instead. The harsh reply is something that tempts everyone, especially when they are provoked. As to guessing the motives of other people, that’s a natural function of human intelligence and our abilities of observe other people. We all do it, and most of the time we’re pretty accurate. In this case, I had the additional advantage of knowing this woman. What I didn’t and would never do is trot her name out on the internet and expose her to controversy and criticism. To the people who read this blog, she’s just a hypothetical.

  • http://peaceandpower.wordpress.com Brian Musser

    Rep. Hamilton,

    You stopped by my blog today. I want to thank you for that but also it got my attention. I wandered to you blog. I’m impressed. I am the Baptist Campus Minister at a Major University in a large rather Catholic city on the East Coast. Working with students my major focus is getting them to integrate what they do with what they believe. Working on a secular academic institution I also try to earn space for religion generally and my faith specifically within the public academic sphere. On both counts your blog is helpful. Seeing you openly discuss how you are connecting your faith to what you do in the political arena is encouraging. I will be referencing your blog in the future. Thank you.

    • http://publiccatholic.wordpress.com Rebecca Hamilton

      Brian, you have my heartfelt thanks and respect for your work in campus ministry. It is gravely needed.

  • Bob

    Ultimately, it all comes down to the state claiming supreme loyalty. And this is not something new. Marcus Aurelius, I read somewhere, was a great Christian persecutor, precisely because he thought that Christians were being entirely unreasonable, and undutiful, in not performing the civic duty of offering incense. Maurice Baring has a great Dead Letter on this.

    In a sense, though, someone who accuses Christians of being disloyal to the state is on to something, though it is not what they think: We do believe there is a higher loyalty, a greater citizenship, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of avowing it. We don’t believe this makes us disloyal, but we also don’t believe that the state (or the party, or whatever else) owns us, and can dictate the whole limits of our duties. We believe that we have a duty not just towards the state, but to everybody for whom Christ died, whether she is an embryo or a condemned criminal or someone dying of an incurable disease.

  • http://jscafenette.com Manny

    “Accusations that people who believe in the sanctity of human life are trying to “legislate their religion,” or that they want to “build a theocracy”

    Yes, I get that too. It’s nonsense. People come to their values from various places, of which religion is one. Ask them how they come to their values.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thanks Manny. To be honest, the ones who go at me on my job are usually yelling at me, so there’s not much give and take going on with it. You probably know how self-righteous and aggressive the militant atheist can be, so I don’t have to tell you.

  • Dr. Peter John Resweber

    Amen.

    Oops! Will anyone think that comment is “too religious”? ;)

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      :-)

  • http://www.ackans.com Mr. V.

    Rebecca,

    Thanks for hanging in there and fighting the good fight. It’s heartening to know there are politicians like yourself who don’t think their faith is nothing more than a coat that they take off when doing their public role.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thanks Stephen. Back at ya. I’ve seen you hanging there pretty good yourself and right here on this blog!

  • http://400wordsforwomen.com/ Béatrice Fedor

    Thank you for writing this post. I would like to see more people in the public eye show compassion and respect when dealing with their opponents.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Beatrice.

  • http://theraineyview.wordpress.com Serena

    Good post. I’ve been asked to run for office locally (small town) and won’t for two reasons you mentioned: I have a lot of trouble controlling my mouth when people say things that make me sick, and I have a past.
    When the pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia, pro-embryo-farming forces began to try to say their opponents were “trying to create a theocracy and ban science” I had trouble staying calm. They were pushing for the abolition of Christian morality, and if we resisted, we were in a conspiracy against democracy and science? By the by, I kept saying, science is on our side, and democracy is on our side too.
    Then they switched to saying dissent from their views is, somehow, “racist.” I got angry but eventually realized they will come up with something. No matter how obviously wrong they are they will come up with something.
    You are amazing, staying calm and polite in the face of such illogic.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Serena. I don’t always succeed. Sometimes, when the other legislators are yelling at me, I yell back. Doesn’t do any good, btw. It’s like talking to a stump.

      I’m sorry you decided not to run because we need good people in office. On the other hand, it is tough; tough enough that I never push anyone to do it.

      You are absolutely correct when you say that they are trying to do awy with Christian morality … and Christianity, as well. Christians are going to have to wake up and start standing together. It’s past time for that.

      Thanks for your comment. It’s good seeing you here.

      • Arkenaten

        “You are absolutely correct when you say that they are trying to do awy with Christian morality … and Christianity, as well.”
        Bit over the top here, methinks….
        Just out of interest, could you briefly define Christian morality for me?

  • EMS

    What amazes me about the religion/politician arguments is that the ones telling us to butt out of politics assume that we are against abortion, etc. because the Church tells us to think that way, as if we’re mindless lemmings incapable of thought. Just once I would love it if a politician or other person in the public eye would say, “You’ve got it backwards. I’m not against abortion (or whatever the issue is) because I’m a Catholic. I’m a Catholic because I’m against abortion, for social justice, etc.”

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Excellent point!

  • http://hisglorysm.com Kathie

    It was so good to find you again Rebecca; I do so appreciate your level head! I too have learned to be quieter with others who are passionately pro-choice as I have realized that underneath much of it is actually deep personal regret. All to His Glory . . .

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Hi Kathie! It’s great to see you here.

  • http://www.humaninrecovery.wordpress.com Kina Diaz DeLeon

    Rebecca,
    First, I’m not sure how you found my blog, but I am grateful you did. It was a thought-provoking pleasure to read your post.

    Second, thank you for showing a true example of what “grace under fire” looks like.

    What came to mind as I read of your encounter was that the woman with that fire in her eye was someone who had buried a deep wound under a deep well of anger. Perhaps she’s one who, for some reason in her personal past had made that choice and has subsequently suffered emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually as a result. Then, because so many faithful and true believers utter condemnation and judgement instead of leaving that to God.

    Yes, there is sanctity of life, including the lives of those who have made choices and taken what would be unconscionable action. No one is beyond God’s love, redemption, or reconciliation. Too often we forget that and display our own certainties and emotions in a way that pushes those most in need, away from God’s grace. Thank you for offering an alternative.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      I enjoy your blog a lot Kina. Thank you for this lovely comment.

  • http://biltrix.wordpress.com Biltrix

    President Kenned’s promise not to involve his Catholic faith in his decision making as president set a bench mark of expectations and a sort of litmus tests for Catholic politicians. I admire the resolve of Catholic public officials, like yourself, who have to courage to let others know that their faith does inform their political views and that it does affect the policies they endorse or reject. It still needs do be clarified, the morality of abortion is not merely a de fide proposition. Citizens elect officials to represent their views in legislation. We therefore have a right to expect this from you. Thanks for doing your job.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you James.

  • Ted Seeber

    I never know what to say to people who live such duplicitous lives that they can keep their religion and politics separate from how they live their lives.

  • http://alanaroberts.wordpress.com AR

    Thanks. Keep it up.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thanks Alana.

  • http://catholicwvengeance.wordpress.com/ Rachel Gohlman

    This is wonderful. God bless you!

  • http://greenlightlady.wordpress.com Wendy Macdonald

    Good on you for taking the high road! I admire your self-control and courage.
    Blessings ~ Wendy

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Wendy.

  • David J. White

    Yes, the Abolitionists and the leaders of the Civil Rights movement should all have just gone to church and left it there.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Good point David!

  • bob

    But if it’s unacceptable to expect politicians to leave their faith out of their public policy decisions, then why is it also unacceptable to make a candidate’s religion fair game in an election?
    If I know that your being a serious Catholic means that you will take policy positions that I don’t agree with, then why is it wrong for me to say: “I will not vote for you because you are Catholic”? It just seems that the people who say politicians should not have to leave their faith out of their policy-making are the same people who say that making a political of a candidate’s faith amounts to bigotry.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Bob, people have told me that they won’t vote for me because I am a Christian. They have told me they won’t vote for me because I am a Catholic. They have said they won’t vote for me because I am a woman, and (this was years ago) that they wouldn’t vote for me because I was too young. They have said they won’t vote for me because I am a Democrat, too liberal, too conservative, pro-life, pro-choice, have curly hair. One lady told me she wouldn’t vote for me because I “knew so much.” I’m still scratching my head over that one.

      None of this bothers me at all. Voting for me, or not, is their choice. They are free to do so for any reason that works for them.

      What does make me mad is when people (Who are never the people I represent, by the way. It’s always people from outside the district.) make up all manner of lies about my faith or attack the faith itself in rude, churlish and boorish ways. I will not listen to anti-Christian tirades from middle-aged two-year-olds. I think that kind of behavior is just the person acting out their mental problems on me. I don’t have to take that and I’m not going to. I can and I have told people to get out of my office, or out of my face over things like that. I will also delete people who behave like that from this blog.

      I am totally through putting up with this self-proclaimed fiat to be rude and crude that various unbelievers have given to themselves. I can’t stop them from doing it. But I’m not going to listen to it.

      • bob

        I would argue that believers and nonbelievers alike have given themselves permission to be rude and crude, and I’m certainly not advocating for rudeness, or unfair attacks on a person’s faith. Just arguing for intellectual consistency: If we’re declaring it fair game for a politician to vote his or her faith, then the faith itself has to be fair game for voters to consider when considering whom to vote for.
        It’s no fair telling people they shouldn’t consider a candidate’s faith (and I’m not saying that you’ve said that, only that many others have and do — see Romney, Mitt) if, in fact, that faith plays a key role in informing their public policy decisions.

        • Rebecca Hamilton

          Bob, people can vote for or against a candidate on any basis they want. That’s as it should be.

  • Walter Blakesley

    Excellent

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Walter.


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