President Trump is like a newborn flying Dutchman, going from church to church, seeking photo ops to deify himself and his actions in the public mind.
Yesterday’s bizarre and cowardly little set piece in which he used our troops to teargas peaceful demonstrators so that he could walk across the road without interacting with them and pose in front of a church with a Bible was evidently just the first rattle out of the box. It’s worth noting that he also used troops to clear the same church of priests before he toddled over.
Evidently, he was so satisfied with his oddball display of whatever that he has decided to do it again, only this time it’s a Catholic shrine he’s going to bless with his presence. I don’t know if he will use armed troops to clear the shrine of priests and nuns before his appearance, or take his chances. I also don’t know if he will wave a Rosary around like he did the Bible. Time will tell.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory issued a statement concerning the president’s upcoming holier than whomever photo op. The Archbishop said that he found it
“… baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our principles, which call for us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree. Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth. He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.
This statement means a lot more to me than the words themselves. I have grieved the loss of my church to anti-Christ right wing radicalism that denies the essential human dignity of whole swaths of the human family. I’ve honestly felt that some of the statements I’ve read from various Catholic clergy verge on a direct denial of the authority of the Gospels and the message of Jesus Christ.
If we are all made in the Image and Likeness of Almighty God — and we are — then the policies, behavior and verbiage of this president toward many millions of people, including but not limited to hispanics, women, and black people, is anathema. Yet almost all I’ve encountered in the past few months are Catholic laity who directly conflate Trump with Jesus. They do this to the point that they seriously remonstrate with me about how I am losing my Catholic faith because I don’t support Trump’s behavior.
I could deal with that. It’s painful, but I’m able to parse it and go on. But many priests and a few bishops have made it their business to preach and teach Trumpism and Republicanism as if Trump was our savior instead of Jesus, and the Republican Party platform was the Gospels instead of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
There were two breaking points for me. The first was when religious leaders, including prominent Catholics, repeatedly backed sexual predators for powerful positions and attacked their victims. The second was when the bishops issued statements that appeared to be a direct attempt to drive the Catholic vote to Trump.
That was horrible for me. Not because it changed my position on Trump. The facts of what he has done and said are stubborn things that I cannot ignore and would never attempt to deny. I don’t support people who behave like that. My long experience has taught me that certain evils can not be bargained with. They must be directly denounced, no matter the cost.
It was a horrible for me because I love the Church with all my heart and I am grateful beyond words to be Catholic. Yet these things, coupled with the 20-year clergy sex abuse scandals, made me question the moral judgement of the bishops themselves.
Archbishop Wilton hasn’t undone that damage with this one statement. I harbor questions in my own mind as to whether he would have reacted this way if the Episcopal bishop had not set such a powerful example yesterday, when Trump invaded her church’s space. I also wonder if this mean that the Archbishop might stand up against Trump for other groups of people?
After all these months of clerical acquiescence to misogyny and sexual assault by powerful men, I’ve begun to lose hope that any bishop, or even any priest, will ever stand up for the humanity of women. I’ve reached the point that in cases of sexual assault by a powerful Republican man I expect them to ether be silent or support the attacker. I have no words for how painful that is for me.
I hadn’t realized how firm that expectation of pragmatic political indifference on the part of my religious leaders was becoming until now. I was actually surprised to see a few of them do otherwise. But I don’t trust it. I wonder if it’s all for show in a crisis.
Is this statement of Archbishop Wilton’s a one off? Is it just for African Americans, or would the Archbishop stand up for anybody, even women? Perhaps he would. I hope so. I’m pretty sure that there will be other opportunities for him to either take other hard stands or back down and kowtow to Trump.
Donald Trump is building his entire re-election campaign on the time honored and much tested Republican strategy of getting their toady religious leaders to deliver the votes of their followers on Election Day. Religious leaders have gotten so they function more like old time ward bosses from the 1930s than followers of Christ who minister to His flocks.
This strategy has bastardized American Christianity. But it has worked magnificently time and again as an election-winning device. It re-elected George Bush II in 2004 after he had put us through his first big economic recession and gotten this country and its allies into an unnecessary war in Iraq.
There’s no way Bush II would have been re-elected without the blind followership of the churches. They beat the abortion drum and in the name of pro life re-elected a man who was directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in a totally unnecessary war. That’s quite a feat.
Based on that, I would say that Trump’s newfound Bible-waving, church-photo-op seeking religiosity is well taken, at least from a political standpoint. I would also say that he has great potential for winning the Catholic vote, especially since the bishops have decided to become his little errand boys.
Only, it seems, not quite. Maybe there are a few bishops who still believe that Jesus is God and that He actually meant all that stuff He said in the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus thought so much of those teachings that He taught them repeatedly. We know of one time he taught them from what is called “the mount” and another time on a plain. There are four versions of them in the Gospels. Maybe He intended for us to take them seriously.
I came to the conclusion a long time ago that there are three kinds of preachers. There are the this-is-a-cushy-job preachers, the political preachers, and the Sermon on the Mount preachers. I’ve never yet taken anyone seriously from a spiritual perspective who I didn’t see as a Sermon on the Mount preacher. The cushy job and political preachers are in it for themselves. They are salt without savor.
I know that it’s inevitable that we will have priests and bishops of all three types. But I pray that the Sermon on the Mount bishops and priests will dominate our corporate Church voice.
The reason why is simple. Sermon on the Mount priests and bishops are the only ones who speak from the heart of Christ.