Because the Bishops Aren’t Consensus Leaders, But Consensus Molders UPDATED

Because the Bishops Aren’t Consensus Leaders, But Consensus Molders UPDATED March 12, 2012

The title to this post came to me this morning directly from the mind of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That his thoughts go a long way towards explaining what our bishops are about nowadays is telling, don’t you think? You see, I understand that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ administrative committee gets together for a two-day meeting tomorrow.

Some folks, like E.J. Dionne, would like them to stop acting like “the Tea Party that prays,” and just quietly accept that which the Administration has given us and be nice, I reckon. Evidently lots of folks just wish the controversy over the HHS Mandate would just go away and be over. Instant gratification, it seems, and the news cycle, is intent on moving past the issue, so some wonder why can’t the bishops just drop it?

Are we really in such a hurry to “get along by going along” that we believe our shepherds don’t have our best interests at heart? I personally think Mr. Dionne, and folks who share his viewpoint, are far from the mark on where the bishops should be. But he’s a well known Washington Post columnist who has a huge following of like-minded readers who are clamoring for the message of “can’t we just get along?” Perhaps he just doesn’t see what Sr. Mary Ann Walsh sees, as she notes that the Amish are exempt from the HHS mandate, but Catholics aren’t. The bishops are likely to ponder that fact, for sure.

Mr. Dionne’s stance reminds me of the member of the press who asked Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a question regarding taking a position that was at odds with both the Administration and popular opinion. He recalls the moment in a speech he gave in February, 1968,

Someone said to me not long ago, it was a member of the press, ‘Dr. King, since you face so many criticisms and since you are going to hurt the budget of your organization, don’t you feel that you should kind of change and fall in line with the Administration’s policy. Aren’t you hurting the civil rights movement and people who once respected you may lose respect for you because you’re involved in this controversial issue in taking the stand against the war.’

And I had to look with a deep understanding of why he raised the question and with no bitterness in my heart and say to that man, ‘I’m sorry sir, but you don’t know me. I’m not a consensus leader. I don’t determine what is right and wrong by looking at the budget of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference…nor do I determine what is right and wrong by taking a Gallup poll of the majority opinion.’

Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher of consensus but a molder of consensus. On some positions cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.

Fortitude like that, combined with faith, can move mountains. Of that, I have no doubt.

Here’s what your lilliputian, no name blogger thinks about the upcoming meeting: I have no idea what the bishops will come up with in their deliberations over the next few days. I only pray that they are guided by the Holy Spirit, who molds and informs their consciences, and that they will only be swayed by the still, soft, voice of his timeless wisdom, to do what is right and just, regardless of whether it is popular or not.


Update: George Weigel noticed Mr. Dionne’s article too. Also, Monsignor Charles Pope remembers the year 1968, and doesn’t want to go back.

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