I saw this kind of stuff repeatedly during the Republican majority in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. It reached the point that the House leadership finally created a “rule” muzzling visiting clergy. They were instructed to refrain from discussing political issues or alluding to them in their homilies and prayers.
The “it” I’m referring to is the latest national embarrassment due to right-wing hubris. In this case, it’s the story of out-going House Speaker Paul Ryan and his actions in forcing the House Chaplain to resign.
Father Pat Conroy was the first Roman Catholic House Chaplain in history. He held the job for seven years prior to being asked to resign by Speaker Ryan. Evidently, he made the mistake of saying something negative about the massive tax cut bill Speaker Ryan pushed through the House, a statement which, Vox says was “perfectly in line with Catholic social teaching.”
I’m not surprised by this at all. Instead of appointing a single chaplain who held the job permanently, the Oklahoma House allowed members to invite members of the clergy to be visiting chaplains for a week. This privilege of inviting a member of the clergy to open House sessions with a prayer and end the week with a short sermon or homily was based on seniority, and along toward the end, on party membership.
I well remember a Catholic priest who was serving as Chaplain of the week sitting in my office and detailing the insults he had received from Republican House members because he had included a petition to protect immigrants in his prayer. He was abashed by the way the House members talked to him. I don’t think he’d experienced anything like it before in his priestly life.
I witnessed Republican House members yell out insults from the floor when visiting religious leaders preached things that were entirely consistent with the Gospels, but that flew in the face of Republican positions on issues. They were not a bit of above insulting, attacking and haranguing clergy for daring to tell them that they were doing what they clearly thought was impossible, and that was doing something wrong in the eyes of God.
To be Republican is to be Godly. That is the underlying belief that drove this behavior. But it took more than this self-deifying hubris to incite such uncivil and flat-out embarrassing behavior, just as it took more than that to lead Speaker Ryan to fire the House Chaplain.
You see, no matter how they dressed it up with well-funded-by-special-interests think-tank palaver; no matter how stridently they pushed focus-group-vetted sell lines for their behavior, it was, in truth and in fact, in direct contradiction to the Gospels.
Jesus really did preach the Sermon on the Mount. He actually spoke the Beatitudes. And — get ready for this now — He meant what He said. He actually told His followers exactly and explicitly how we will be judged when we stand before God, and it has nothing to do with registering Republican, voting Republican or blindly following Republican “teachings.”
That was part of their anger and wrathful behavior. They might have fed their minds political poison for so long that they believed on the surface of their brains that Republican cant rather than the Gospels of Christ was the way to righteousness, but down deep, pushed into a corner and choke-chained to the wall, they still had a conscience.
They knew, with the implacable knowing that is natural law, with the nagging insistence of the Holy Spirit, trying to lead them to Christ, that they were sinning. They refused to see that they were engaging in idolatry, that they had made a false god out of their politics. Despite their anger and self-righteous wrath, the real God had not let them go. He had not abandoned them to their fall from grace.
This was painful, living half-caught in the Gospels while practicing obedience to worldly gods. They were big on sitting in the Amen corners of the biggest churches in their districts. They never missed a prayer meeting or hymn sing. They thought they believed.
But when the inevitable conflicts between following their party or following Christ arose, they always chose the party. And every time they made this choice, they got a little bit meaner and whole lot angrier. It costs on a deep level to turn your back on what you know is true and chase after a lie that will advance your career. It wounds and disfigures your soul to hurt people and lie to them in order to play acolyte to a false god.
Partisan politics has become a false god in America today. And those poor pilgrims who hold elected office are selected and groomed, fed the royal jelly and put in place precisely because they are the ones who will bend their knee before the vaporous idols of power and money. They are there because they can be bought, because they have been bought. They will be allowed to stay there only so long as they stay bought.
Any preacher or priest who comes before them and reminds them that their political party is not God, is, without knowing it, threatening to breach the wall of lies they have placed between their self-knowing and the reality of what they have become. This priest or preacher is not simply applying the Gospels to political issues, they are tearing at the defensive barrier the politicians have created between their self-image and what they actually are.
They are shining a weak pin-light of truth on the self-lies these politicians hide behind in order to live the lives they have chosen and do the things they are doing. These politicians have betrayed the public trust, abandoned the common good and turned their backs on Christ in order to follow their political party, which has, in turn become the instrument of powerful special interests bent on draining this nation dry.
When Speaker Ryan forced the House Chaplain to resign, he was silencing his own conscience and that of his members. No normal person can bear looking at their own depravity. They will either change their behavior, or they will seek to destroy whatever it is that makes them see.
We are all like that. I can attest from experience that realizing the depth of your own sin breaks you. It broke me.
The question — the question — is whether you turn to Christ for forgiveness and let Him change you, to turn you away from your sin, or if you become hardened in what you are doing and continue it.
God places before us life and death every single day. He sometimes, if they are not fallen themselves, uses His preachers and priests to do this. But even when His clergy fall into the idolatries of their times and fail Christ, their flocks and themselves, even then, He will place the choice before us.
We always have the chance to chose. And the choice is never easy.
Jesus told us plainly that we are called to “take up your cross and follow after me.” He spoke of a narrow way that was rocky and hard, but led to eternal life.
The easy way, the broad way, is to follow the crowd, be one of the gang, and join in worshipping whatever false god your time in history provides. For Americans today, that false god is political party. It is the R and the D.
That’s why Speaker Ryan forced the House Chaplain to resign. It wasn’t because the Chaplain differed with the Speaker over the tax bill. It was because the Chaplain challenged Speaker Ryan’s false god with the real God. He placed before the House life and death.
And the House chose death.
A PS for my hard-core Republican readers: I am aware that the Democrats are not shy about insulting pro life believers. I’ve been the recipient of this behavior myself. However, the Ds are not in power, and they didn’t do this one. Also — and this is critical — What the Ds do does not make what the Rs do ok.