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.

Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus

What would it take to make you deny Christ?

Would you deny Jesus to save your life? Would you deny Him to save your child’s life?

What would it take for you to turn your back on Jesus?

Christians die for their faith all over the world, right now, this minute. Christians are raped, splashed with acid, stoned, beheaded, sold into slavery every minute of every day because they refuse to deny Jesus. They are the martyrs of our times, and we, who are not facing martyrdom, do very little to support them.

That doesn’t mean that those of us who are safe, fed and fat are not challenged in our soft and cozy faith. It just means that the challenges come at us in more subtle, less costly ways that we  don’t always recognize. Take, for instance, the insistent request in certain circles that we not “offend” people of other faiths or no faith by talking about our Jesus. This kind of gentle push to deny Our Lord can come from surprising sources, sources which disarm us by who they are.

My friend and fellow public catholic, Linda Cavanah, is an example. Linda is the founder and director of All Things New, an Oklahoma ministry which engages in the life-saving work of rescuing, sheltering and healing women from sex trafficking and prostitution. Linda makes a lot speeches about sex trafficking and prostitution in many different venues. When she was asked to speak at a large mainline church near one of Oklahoma’s two major universities, she assumed that this particular speech would be on Christian-friendly grounds.

A few days before the speech the church’s assistant pastor emailed her. He asked her to avoid mentioning Jesus or talking about her faith in her speech. He said that people from many faiths, including people of no faith, would be in the audience, and his church didn’t want to offend them by talking about Jesus. Linda emailed back, telling him, no, she couldn’t do that. If that was his requirement, he would have to find another speaker.

When the pastor did not reply to her email, she sent another. When he didn’t reply to that, she was in a quandary. Was she supposed to show up for the speech or not? She finally decided to go ahead and show up and see if they still wanted her to speak. She went, prepared to leave if that was what they wanted.

When she got there, no one told her to leave, but she wasn’t exactly welcomed, either. The associate pastor who had sent the email and his senior pastor huddled on the other side of the room, glancing at her while they talked and rolled their eyes in what anyone who’s been treated this way would recognize as distaste. Despite their obvious contempt and woeful lack of hospitality, they let her speak.

She talked about how Jesus had saved her from the same thing from which she was working to rescue other women. She said straight out that her ministry was based on faith in Christ. Of course, she also (and mostly) talked about the horrors of sex trafficking and what we can do to stop it. No one in the audience raised any objections.

So. Two “pastors,” men who are supposed to be shepherds of Christ’s flock, try to stop a woman from saying the name Jesus while speaking to a gathering in their church. They do this in a church that has the image of Christ in its stained glass windows and the name of Christ on its altar. I could do a whole post on that. But the real point is that my friend didn’t let them bully her into silence about Jesus. She stood firm. She refused. She got dissed by two “men of God” for her effort, but I have to think that God Himself was pleased with her.

This leads me back to my first question: What would it take to make YOU deny Christ?

Assuming that you are not one of the people who is facing death for standing for Jesus, what would it take to make you deny Him?

Would you do it to keep your job?

Would you do it to keep or get government funding for your ministry?

Would you do it to satisfy government regulations that conflict with your faith so you could keep your ministry’s doors open?

Would you do it to avoid having your classmates, co-workers, even your family, belittle, mock and make fun of you?

Would you do it to avoid the humiliation of a public trashing on the internet and by media talking heads?

Would you do it to avoid being labeled a “bigot,” a “hater,” or a fool?

Would you do it to get into a fraternity or sorority?

Would you do it to get a date with the best looking, most popular guy or girl in school?

Would you do it to get an “A” from that professor who talks about “theists” and claims that only atheists are rational?

What would it take to make you deny Christ? Before you answer, consider this: You’ve already done it. I have. You have. We all have.

I don’t think there’s one Christian in our entire American culture who hasn’t at one time or another gone along to get along in matters of faith. We’ve kept quiet; at family dinners, political gatherings, in the classroom, on the job. We’ve laughed at jokes belittling God or Christians, even when we felt dirty for doing it. We’ve joined in and repeated these jokes ourselves.

We have all denied Christ in the simplest way possible; by what we’ve said and what we haven’t said. I’ll talk another time about how we deny Him with what we do. For now, let’s just stop and consider how many times and in how many ways each of us has denied Him with what we’ve said or not said.

Public Catholics get pushed every day to deny Christ. We are bullied, badgered, belittled, mocked and shamed for our faith as a matter of our daily work. In the case of politicians, most of this is a not-so-subtle attempt to change the way we vote on issues of public policy. The interesting thing is that it works. Not with me. I’ve kept my mouth shut to keep the peace when I shouldn’t have. But nobody ever bullied me into voting against my faith. I just won’t do it.

Linda Cavanah is also a Public Catholic. She’s not an elected official, but her work and ministry place her in the public eye. She passed the test with that speech. I’ve seen her pass the test over and over again.

I think the reason the two of us are so stubborn about this is that Jesus forgave us for so much. He loved us from death to life and we know it. Deny Him? Deny the One Who saved us from the living pit of our self-made hells? No. The very thought is anathema.

If you came to Christ by an “easier” way, you may not realize quite so graphically what He saved you from. You may not feel to the marrow of your bones that you owe a debt you can never repay. You may even think, as some Christians evidently do, that it was God’s lucky day when He got you. It may be easier for you to overlook the seemingly small requests to accede to the larger culture and keep quiet about Jesus. Maybe, down deep where not even you know it, the truth is that Jesus doesn’t matter to you as much as the good opinion of the people around you.

Besides, you ask, what good would it do? After all, you are just a drop of faith against the tsunami of secularism and nihilism that is rolling over our society. What does it matter in the great scheme of things what you do?

The answer is simple: It matters to Him.

We are called to be the leaven, the mustard seed, the light and salt that brings the Kingdom. It does not matter who you are or what you do, you will be faced each day with opportunities to speak for Jesus or keep silent. You will decide a thousand times in every thousand days you live to either stand up for Jesus or sit down and say nothing. That may seem like a trial, but it is in reality the great opportunity to speak for Christ which is available to every one of us in our present world. It is your chance to do something that matters for Christ.

I am not talking about being strident. This is not a call to lecture, hector, speechify. What I am suggesting is that we, all of us, every Christian man, woman and child, stop being silent when Our Lord is attacked, when our faith is belittled, when the only Hope of humankind is drug through the mud of incivility and debasement that has become our public debate. Most of the time, all you have to say is, “I am a Christian, and I am not comfortable with this discussion.” That will cause an uneasy silence, but it will also make the point.

Every once in a while you may come across one of those devil-driven souls who feel a sense of self-righteous entitlement when it comes to attacking Christians. They may turn on you and say ugly, degrading things to you and about you. If you are female, they may even band together with others of their kind in an attack on you as a girl or a woman.

I can tell you from personal experience, that is hard to take. I’ll blog another time about Christian men who stand by and do or say nothing while this happens. It’s enough for now to tell you that I have been called every degrading name our misogynist culture uses to attack women, including all the vicious names for women’s body parts. Ironically, most of this was done in the name of “women’s rights.” It was a way of punishing me for converting to pro-life.

It hurts. It has to hurt. But remember: They did the same thing to Jesus. He warned us about this. He said that if they did it to Him, they would do it to us, too. It is not a curse to suffer for Jesus. It is a privilege. As Jesus told us, “rejoice and be glad,” when people attack you for standing up for Him. They are giving you the Kingdom of Heaven.

There’s an old hymn that goes, “Stand up, stand for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross.”

In our world, we might better sing, “Don’t be embarrassed by Jesus. Don’t be ashamed of His Name.”

Atheists Decry Stand Up for religious freedom rally

This is from the blog St Anne Center for Reproductive Health, a great blog by fellow advocates for the sanctity of human life.
Notice the MASSIVE re-interpretation of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States these men use to justify their claims. It appears that they not only want to be their own gods, they want to be their own Supreme Court, as well. Hubris, thy name is atheist.

Walking Between the Labels

My husband and I watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes Saturday night. The hero ape, after a lifetime of gentle living at the hands of benevolent humans, was cast into a cage of swinging, screeching, fist-banging members of his own species. As we watched his shock and dismay, I remarked to my husband, “That kind of reminds me of going to work.”

The reason my husband thought that was funny is because I had mis-matched the labels. If it has hair all over its body and walks with its knuckles dragging on the ground, it is not human. The knuckle-draggers among us are labeled “apes” and we know that no matter what the ape might be, it ain’t us.

This primal ability to distinguish “us” from “them” keeps us alive. It helps to know the difference between a rattlesnake and a cabbage, between giant spiders and your grandma. Labels not only keep us safe, they allow us to live together and cooperate with one another in how we order our society.

Unfortunately, people are smarter than they are wise. Whatever ability we have, we always seem to find a way to apply it for evil. Labels can be used to ostracize, punish, degrade and manipulate other people. Used this way, labels become shorthand slander. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the political world.

Political discourse has devolved down to scandal-mining one another’s histories, gaffe attacks and label slinging. Never mind the problems besetting our nation and the world; if you can catch someone using an off-color word when they thought the mike was off, or if you can get enough people to label them a “communist” or a “fascist” or whatever, why then you beat them at the polls. You can win the election. Take home the prize. Get your hands on the state treasury and the power of government.

The standard way for politicians to survive this is to pick a side and stick with that side. “Your” side will then stick with you. They will label, gaffe report and scandal-mine your opponents for you. They will be your tit for the other guy’s tat.

The one thing no politician in their right mind would ever do is venture out from under the cover of “their” side. With no one to protect them from the hail stones of public excoriation, they will be beaten to a pulp and carted off the field in nothing flat. The only way to survive in politics is to, as Okies say, “dance with them that brung ya.”

There comes a point in every political career where sticking with your side means doing things you know are wrong. It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican, a conservative or a liberal, the day will come when your “side” expects and demands that you chose them over everything else you believe.

If you are a Public Catholic, this day will come soon and be repeated often. If you think you can hold elective office and never be forced to choose between God and your party, God and your friends, God and your “side,” you need to think again. You will have to choose, and you will have to do it over and over and over again.

If you chose Jesus, if you decide that the “side” you’re on is the Jesus, Joseph and Mary side, there will be payback. Your payback is that both sides will come at you. “Your” side will do everything they can to punish and purge the “traitor” in their midst. The “other” side will join in where they can and wish them success. You will be alone.

Public Catholics have to walk between the labels. They’ll call you a “communist” one day, and a “fascist” the next. What they really mean is that you are not “one of us.” It won’t be long before everybody on both sides is slander-mining your history, gaffe-reporting your speeches and labeling you everything but a nice person.

You will be maliciously misunderstood, misinterpreted, misquoted, and just plain lied about.

The only comfort you can take is that this is exactly what Jesus said would happen. It’s how they treated Him, and if you truly try to follow Him, it’s how they’ll treat you. Their labels don’t fit you. You’re not a “conservative” or a “liberal.” You are a follower of Christ in a world that hated Him then and hates Him now.

You follow a risen savior Who was beaten, mocked, tortured, despised and murdered. You follow Jesus. And His label is the cross.

The I Woulda Killed Him Deader Than You Did Debate

What’s a Christian to do when the political debate in the campaign for President of the United States descends to a question of who would have killed Osama bin Laden first and deadest?

Is this all these two candidates have to offer us? Is it what we can expect through the summer and fall as they slash and burn, trying to get themselves elected?

On the one hand, we have the president, who has attacked the Catholic Church and religious freedom. On the other hand, we have a man who appears to change his beliefs when it suits his ambitions, who, when he was governor of Massachusetts, signed into law a health care plan that actually used tax payer money to pay for abortions.

For the past few weeks, they’ve been tossing verbal grenades back and forth over the death of Osama bin Laden. President Obama was elected under something of a cloud four years ago. A lot of people thought he was a secret Muslim, that he would sell us out to Al Qaeda. Now, he points to the corpse of bin Laden and says, “See?”

Romney, not to be outdone, comes back with stout claims that he would have done the same thing if he’d had the chance, in fact, he would have done it sooner and meaner and, and, well, he would have killed bin Laden deader than dead, he would have killed him deadest.

Meanwhile, here I am, out on the Oklahoma prairie, trying to follow Jesus, trying to stand up for the First Amendment, trying, in the face of this barrage of unseemly non-squiturs and spin, to figure out what’s best for my country.

I love Jesus. I love my Church. I love America. I love my children and my family who will live out their lives in this country.

How do I be faithful to those four great loves and vote for either one of these guys?

Am I the only person in this country who’d like a better choice?

I know there are party loyalists, the yella dog Democrats and the die-hard Republicans, who would vote for anyone anytime who had a “D” or an “R” after their name on the ballot. I know also that some people hate the Catholic Church and its moral voice so much that they will throw the First Amendment under the bus if that’s what it takes to harm the Church. I know there are people who don’t care one way or the other about abortion.

But, I’m not one of them.

I’d like a president who had a center, beliefs and ideals, to see him through the challenges of the job. I’d like a president who honestly valued the lives of every person throughout their span of years, from conception to natural death. I’d like a president who respected the Constitution and religious freedom. I’d like a president who was grounded in a strong Christian faith.

These men are asking us to trust them with our country, with America. They’re asking us to put our lives, our futures and our children’s futures in their hands. It would be nice, in the course of this campaign, if they could elevate their discussion at least somewhat above the I woulda killed him deader than you did debate.


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