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.

I am Proud of the Bishops

I am proud of the way that the United States Catholic Bishops have handled the HHS Mandate.

If the various blogs, Facebook comments and internet rants I’ve read are any indication, I would guess that the bishops have been and are subjected to a continuous dose of what amounts to verbal abuse. I wouldn’t be surprised if the USCCB and each of the various bishops has their own Crazy People File. If they do, I’m sure it bulges with emails and letters that would, as my grandmother used to say, “curl your hair.”

I don’t know how this behavior got started, but it seems that a large number of Catholics are everlastingly irate with the bishops because they won’t sufficiently hate whoever it is the Catholic in question feels deserves hating. Personally, I respect the bishops for sticking with the entire gospel of Christ.

What I love best about the Catholic Church’s approach to politics is that it has steadfastly refused to be the moral apologist for either right or left wing nutso politics, but has instead insisted that the whole of the faith be adhered to and followed. In today’s political world, that takes guts. It can and does get you attacked and slandered. However, it is the only way to be part of the political debate and follow Christ.

One of the most important facets of leadership is that you have to lead. You cannot just parade around under the halo of your own self-importance and take positions of pragmatic cowardice. What this means to people who are in positions of Christian leadership is that they are required, REQUIRED, to follow Christ, even when it puts them at odds with the powers that be. That often means that they have to do things that, in the world’s way of thinking, are just plain stupid.

In my own position as an elected official I’ve had to cast votes, make speeches and take stands that were moronic by smart politician standards. I’ve been forced to call the lightning down on my own head over and again by putting myself out there in the face of angry advocates with blood in their eyes. I’ve had to go against my own political party one day, and then turn around and oppose the other political party the next.

I’m not the brightest bulb in the firmament, but I am smart enough to know that, from a political standpoint, what I am doing is stupid. I sometimes joke with my friends that I’ve been called to be a fool for Christ. After years of getting kicked around, I’ve come to accept it. Jesus didn’t call us to follow the world. He called us to follow Him.

We have a saying in Oklahoma politics: “jump out in front of that lynch mob and turn it into a parade.” That’s a colorful way of describing the fine art of getting in front of popular opinion and pretending to “lead” the mob where it wants to go. The most sophisticated application of this principle in today’s politics is the egregious practice of using polls and focus groups to determine what party positions should be and what the puppet people political parties run for office should say they believe.

This kind of flim-flam political campaigning has become the way the smart folks do it. The reason is that it nearly always works. The flim-flammers get elected. This  is not leadership. It’s craven callous manipulation of the electorate to gain power by any means.

It is also something that a Christian leader may never do. Christian leadership, like all leadership, requires you to lead. But Christian leadership has the added requirement that before you lead, you must first follow. In this way, Christian leadership is not so much a matter of being a good leader, as it is being a good follower. Christian leadership must first and always be predicated on following Jesus. It doesn’t matter if your leadership is as a bishop, or a politician, a corporate head, a shop foreman, parents raising a family, or as a young person among your friends. If you are a Christian, your leadership must be lived within the confines of the gospels of Christ.

This means following both the Ten Commandments, AND the Sermon on the Mount, not some truncated half-Christianity that has been trimmed to fit your political party or life situation. It means following Jesus first, then adding whatever particular wisdom or skills you might bring to the situation on top of that.

Which is why I am so proud of the American bishops. The politically smart thing, the easy, cheap thing to do would have been to kiss Caesar’s ring and accept this mandate. Other bishops in other countries have done this with similar mandates just recently. They acceded to the government, took the money, and refused to lead their flocks for Christ. To their everlasting honor, the American bishops dug in and decided to fight.

They are fighting in a Christian way. Not by slandering individuals, but by standing up for the right of the Church to live its teachings. They aren’t trying to destroy people, including the people who are trying so hard to batten down the Church. The United States bishops are leading in a positive way. Their fight is a fight for religious freedom and that is what they are talking about.

I am proud of the way that the United States Catholic Bishops have handled the HHS Mandate. Proud to follow their leadership.


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