Paul Ryan Wants to Fire the House Chaplain. Why?

Paul Ryan Wants to Fire the House Chaplain. Why? May 3, 2018


Congressman Paul Ryan, photo source Flickr Creative Commons, commercial use allowed, by Tony Alter



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. 

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12 responses to “Paul Ryan Wants to Fire the House Chaplain. Why?”

  1. Hardly anything changes. The first Baptist minister to preach in Texas arrived in Pecan Point, which is now Williamson County, Texas in 1822. Among other topics, he preached against slavery. He was robbed and threatened. His fearful family urged him to move. He took his family to Kansas. His name was Freeman Harper Smalley, my 15th great-uncle.

  2. Thank you for this article Rebecca. My faith and hope are renewed when I encounter articulate honesty and the values of our faith in an article like this. This doesn’t happen often, not even in church. Will post on my FB page.

  3. Someday I’d like to see a political party based on the Beatitudes. Even if it is a small minority third party.

    Unfortunately, the best attempt of 2016, the American Solidarity Party, is currently imploding in a war between pro-homosexual activists and traditionalist conservatives over same sex marriage. Both sides have managed to get competing statements into the platform, and being far too Catholic on those issues for my own good, I’ve had to block people on both sides and withdraw from all of ASP’s facebook groups.

  4. Great to see you back Rebecca. I hope you are feeling better. You’re still on my prayer list.

    As to this issue, I haven’t followed closely and may have missed the latest but didn’t Ryan go back and refuse the resignation? I don’t know. The thing is the House chaplain, no matter what religion, shouldn’t be involved in the politics. If so then the position will be eliminated, no matter which party is in power. No politician will stand for it.

    Anyway I can’t help but end this with this thought. When the Dems get back to power I can’t wait to see which Pastor of the Satanic Witches denomination they pick for House Chaplain. 😛

    Truly I hope you’re health is better.

  5. I’m feeling better Manny, a lot better. In fact, I’m hopeful that I can have a life again!

    What happened, Speaker Ryan demanded that Father Conroy resign. I believe he sent a member of the staff to make the demand. The Speaker did NOT refuse the resignation. However, when Fr Conroy, under the advice of counsel, rescinded his resignation, Speaker Ryan accepted it.

    Firing the House Chaplain would require a vote of the full House, just as hiring the chaplain does. The Speaker cannot do it all on his own. I think that would result in a firefight.

    As for requiring preachers to stay clear of politics, this is precisely the Obama position; that religion should stay inside the churches and not trouble politicians. In truth, both parties want to hear preachers praise them and will do their best to shut down those who criticize them. For my money, some of these right-wing toady preachers who support child molesters and such as just as much members of the church of satan as anybody can be. I don’t respect or take seriously any Christian religious leader who sells Christ for political currency; right or left, it doesn’t matter to me. I find all of them repulsive.

    FWIW, the United States House of Representatives functioned with a chaplain who was not muzzled for over 200 years. It wasn’t until elected officials became total puppets of special interests that they got too delicate to endure an independent clergy.

  6. I’m so glad you’re better. God give you strength. Even though I subscribe to your blog, there’s a delay between when you post them and when I receive them. I see you already posted on the resignation being withdrawn.

    I didn’t say pastors shouldn’t speak on politics. I said the House Chaplain shouldn’t. I don’t have his list of duties but I imagine they are mostly ceremonial. It’s a good thing that the House allows a prayer. It certainly provides the country with a special grace. If any pastor gets too controversial, then it’s likely the position will be done away. And that would be horrible. Perhaps the pastors weren’t muzzled for 200 years, but were they controversial? I would prefer the issues be brought up by our bishops (and Protestant pastors) than someone who (1) is there for ceremonial reasons and (2) has some sort of obligation to represent the entire body of Representatives and the broad spectrum of the country. It’s just not his role.

    That said, I thought it was a political tin ear on Ryan’s part to fire him.

    I’ll say a special prayer just for you tonight. 🙂

  7. Thank you friend. Prayer has gotten me through this, my own and those of other people.

  8. So the LORD sent Nathan to David. Nathan came to him and said, “There were two men in a certain city. One was rich, and the other was poor….” Again, so it is, that the messenger must bear the consequences of his calling.