A little while back I remarked on the fact that, despite the constant complaint of “liberal persecution” from MAGA Christians, the primary thing I noticed from liberal critics of Christians was not hostility toward the Faith, but hostility to Right Wing betrayal of the Faith.
What has struck me consistently is how people on the Left are not interested in persecuting Christians and how often they beg them to be Christians, to act like Christians, to give balm to their souls by not being simply awful, selfish, appalling human beings.
And what consistently strikes me about the Right is how often that hope is struck down with extreme spite.
As if to illustrate my point, this tweet washed up in my feed the other day:
i am pro choice, but i love this tweet. respect the logical consistency….
— Büsi Love (@buesilove) February 19, 2020
What we see here is simple: respect for a prolife Christian who actually is prolife. The pro-choice tweeter disagrees with them about the question of abortion because the pro-choice tweeter has a differing view of the personhood of the unborn baby. But the person who owns the car makes very clear that they are not flaming hypocrites whose sole interest in the unborn is to use the child as a weapon in order to inflict suffering on all those forms of human life useless to MAGA ideology. They are actually motivated by a sincere love of human life and the pro-choice tweeter can see that. And so: respect, despite the difference over abortion. This is where a conversation can begin.
I use this to illustrate a point constantly made by Sherry Weddell in her fine book Forming Intentional Disciples.
Sherry discusses the five thresholds people pass through on their way to becoming Intentional Disciples of Jesus Christ in the heart of his Church (Trust, Curiosity, Openness, Seeking, Intentional Discipleship). The most elementary of them is mere Trust, and for an elementary reason.
Trust is not the gift of faith. It is merely Trust. That is to say, the person on the path to discipleship finds something about the Faith with which they have a positive association, something trustworthy. It can be virtually anything: a relative, some positive association with a person who is Catholic (Sherry menti0ns a Muslim woman schooled by nuns she admired). Alec Guiness was moved by a young French boy who took him for a priest when he was filming a Father Brown movie and who happily took his hand and chattered at him as he walked. It can be a rosary, or a medal, or a book that affected you. It can be music or art or, yes, even a bumper sticker. Something associated with the faith that strikes a person as reliable and trustworthy. For some people, it’s been listening to somebody on Catholic radio. For Edith Stein, it was her encounter with Teresa of Avila’s work.
The point is simply this: Without trust, nothing else will ever happen. If you are not perceived as trustworthy, you can totally forget bearing witness to the Faith. And the way to do that is simple: don’t try to appear trustworthy. Just be trustworthy. Period. In the words of Mark Twain, “Tell the truth. Then you don’t have to remember what you said.”
The news that Norma McCorvey (aka Roe of Roe v. Wade) was a bought-and-paid for liar for the “prolife” movement since 1995 makes clear why simple trustworthiness is so vital.
“This is my deathbed confession,” she chuckles, sitting in a chair in her nursing home room, on oxygen. Sweeney asks McCorvey, “Did [the evangelicals] use you as a trophy?” “Of course,” she replies. “I was the Big Fish.” “Do you think you would say that you used them?” Sweeney responds. “Well,” says McCorvey, “I think it was a mutual thing. I took their money and they took me out in front of the cameras and told me what to say. That’s what I’d say.” She even gives an example of her scripted anti-abortion lines. “I’m a good actress,” she points out. “Of course, I’m not acting now.”
Sweeney shows the video of McCorvey’s confession to her friends and acquaintances on the pro-abortion and anti-abortion sides, including pro-choice activist Charlotte Taft who, on the verge of tears, says, “That just really hurts because it’s big stakes. It’s just really big stakes.”
Reverend Schenck, the much more reasonable of the two evangelical leaders featured in the film, also watches the confession and is taken aback. But he’s not surprised, and easily corroborates, saying, “I had never heard her say anything like this… But I knew what we were doing. And there were times when I was sure she knew. And I wondered, Is she playing us? What I didn’t have the guts to say was, because I know damn well we’re playing her.” Reverend Schenck admits that McCorvey was “a target,” a “needy” person in need of love and protection, and that “as clergy,” people like Schenck and Benham were “used to those personalities” and thus easily able to exploit her weaknesses. He also confirms that she was “coached on what to say” in her anti-abortion speeches. Benham denies McCorvey was paid; Schenck insists she was, saying that “at a few points, she was actually on the payroll, as it were.” AKA Jane Roe finds documents disclosing at least $456,911 in “benevolent gifts” from the anti-abortion movement to McCorvey.
Reverend Benham then blurts out, “Yeah, but she chose to be used. That’s called work. That’s what you’re paid to be doing!” Schenck’s thinking is quite different: “For Christians like me, there is no more important or authoritative voice than Jesus,” he explains. “And he said, ‘What does it profit in the end if he should gain the whole world and lose his soul?’ When you do what we did to Norma, you lose your soul.”
The Buying of Norma McCorvey is pretty much the final nail in the coffin of the Liars for Jesus strategy of the American Religious Right that has flowered into the MAGA Cult of Lies. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t blame Norma McCorvey. I blame the people who manipulated a woman who was kicked around and used all her life. My fury is not at her. It’s at the Liars for Jesus who have utterly corrupted the “prolife” movement.
I, slowcoach that I am, only began to be aware that Lying for Jesus was a feature, not a bug, for the “prolife” conservative Christian about a decade ago. When Live Action starting doing videos in which they lied about their identity and James O’Keefe started doing phony videos (for which he got massively sued and lost) I argued in the pages of the National Catholic Register that you cannot do evil that good may come of it–which is, you know, Catholic teaching going back to Romans 3:8. So did various other Catholics around the web. I and others pointed out that Augustine, Aquinas, and the whole Catholic tradition down to the Catechism said that you cannot lie, that lying is always intrinsically immoral and that, as Augustine pointed out, a revelation that is received by faith must be proclaimed in truth or (duh!) people will reject it when they discover they have been lied to.
But the bulk of “prolife” Catholics managed to convince themselves that Lying for Jesus made them morally indistinguishable from those who lied to hide Jews from Nazis. They turned their lies into a point of pride and followed Pied Pipers like John Zmirak into buying completely the lie that they could ignore the Tradition of the Church on lying for the greater good. They labeled critics of Lying for Jesus scrupulous Pharisees and got on with the work of destroying their credibility for short-term political gain.
I thought that this was the moment when the “prolife” movement lost its moral moorings.
Now I see I was inaccurate by at least 15 years. 2011 was merely the moment when the Lie for Jesus ethos of the “prolife” leadership became the Lie for Jesus ethos of the rank and file as well. That leadership now tells us “Who you gonna believe? Me or your own two eyes?” to keep up the shameless grift, as Frank Pavone does when he scrambles to maintain the lie he did so much to help promote:
Various others immediately took to the airwaves and interwebs to say “Pay no attention to the video recording of Norma McCorvey saying it was all a lie. You can trust us.” So the head of Live Action assures us. Just as she assured us you could lie to Planned Parenthood for the greater good. Because surely Live Action would not lie to us, right?
There are only two options here: Norma McCorvey was lying with the knowledge of these “prolife” leaders or she was lying without it. If Frank Pavone or Live Action were trustworthy, I would assume they were dupes. But Frank Pavone is the biggest and most shameless Catholic “prolife” apologist for the biggest liar in the history of the Presidency, a man willing to commit sacrilege and stain his priesthood for power, a man who will not even tell us who his bishop is, a man whose grift has sent him from one diocese to the next in order to escape financial accountability. And nearly all the “prolife” leadership shouted me down a decade ago telling me it was fine to lie to defend the unborn.
And so, there is not a reason in the world to believe what they say here while there ios every reason in the world to believe Norma McCorvey’s “deathbed confession”. The MAGA “prolife” cult inspires no trust except in one demographic: “faithful conservative prolife” Christians who have embraced the idea that lying for Jesus is AOK because opposition to abortion taketh away the sins of the world.
The “faithful conservative Christian Prolife” movement is dead, not at the hands of “liberal persecution” but by suicide. The credibility of the Church in the US is, meanwhile, in critical condition, due to a subculture that embraced the Noble Lie as a shortcut, not to living as disciples of Jesus the Truth, but to Winning.
The way back is plain: tell the truth, even if it means losing. Because there is no replacement for trustworthiness, and no way to bring people to faith other than via trust.
There are people who get this. As I say, I was by no means the only one who opposed Lying for Jesus ten years ago. And I am not, by a long shot, the only one advocating a Consistent Life Ethic now. The Magisterium does it. Pope Francis does it (notably declaring that the Preferential Option for the Poor is “Non-negotiable” in a way that “faithful Conservative” American Catholics don’t mention in their “Vote GOP or the baby gets it” voter guides). Rehumanize International gets it. Simcha Fisher gets it. And Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa of New Wave Feminists gets it.
You shall not do evil that good may come of it. A faith founded on lies is doomed. Opposition to abortion does not take away sin. Forget the lust for power and winning. Live in truth even if it costs you victory. For what shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?:
For our appeal does not spring from error or uncleanness, nor is it made with guile; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please men, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never used either words of flattery, as you know, or a cloak for greed, as God is witness; nor did we seek glory from men, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
For you remember our labor and toil, brethren; we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you, while we preached to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our behavior to you believers; for you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:3-12).
It can be done. It has been done. Do it again.