Friday, May 30, 2008

Just a Fool Disagreeing with an Archbishop

Over at First Things last Tuesday, the Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Denver, wrote an article titled, "Thoughts on 'Roman Catholics for Obama '08.' " It was written in response to a group of Catholics that use parts of another one of his articles to justify voting for Senator Obama in spite of his being pro-choice. His Excellency makes it clear that Roman Catholics for Obama (RCO) has not quoted him fully and makes the case for extreme caution before voting for a pro-choice politician. His Excellency is not willing to do so. (I would encourage you to read the article.)

And so, fuel to the fire, there has been much sound and fury in the blogs among fundamentalist and conservative Catholics.

But before I go on, let me provide some brief background information about Catholics and Catholicism. First, there are what I would consider fundamentalists in Catholicism. These are the same kind of fundamentalists that you know in whatever religion or Christian denomination you may move in. I'm not speaking here of Christians who adhere to the fundamentals of their faith - the denotative understanding of the term, as has been formerly understood in Protestant Christianity. These Catholics and Christians are conservative, but that isn't their distinguishing feature. What distinguishes them is that they bandy fear about as a bludgeon. And while it is effective, it is not Christian (that is not to say that they are not Christians). It lacks mercy.

So these fundamentalists pick up Archbishop Chaput's essay and they roll it tightly into a club. They call Obama supporters soft-brained, and some even relegate his supporters to hell. They compare the senator with Moloch. Who, if you remember, was offered babies in sacrifice by throwing them into a fire - thousands of babies.

Now, quickly, I want to say that I am not questioning whether any of these people are Christian or Catholic. I'm not equipped to make that judgment; I don't have the authority to make that determination; it's not my job. And I believe they're good-hearted and well-intentioned. And their vitriol rises up out of their love for children. These are people just like you and me, they too need to be examining their lives to see if they are in the faith, working out their salvation in fear and trembling, uniting themselves to Christ, converting evermore to him each day.

Let me also be clear in saying that Archbishop Chaput, from what I have read of and about him is no fundamentalist. He gives his reasons for voting pro-life. And having a strong opinion on a matter is not the same as judging everyone who disagrees with that opinion. His Excellency believes that there is no moral issue (where there is disagreement in our parties, I imagine worldwide poverty is not under consideration) that outweighs the issue of abortion. And I agree with him. He makes an excellent argument. But I disagree with him here, in that I don't believe it's simply a weighing match. The archbishop says that the Democratic party has not gotten better on the issue of life and therefore he can't vote for such a candidate in good faith. That is all well and good. However, while the Republican party talks a good talk concerning the abortion issue, they have had nearly 30 years of mostly Republican power, and one begins to wonder whether talk is all the Republican party has.

I am sure about one thing as it concerns abortion and politics: My vote for a pro-life Republican president will not diminish the number of abortions in our country in the next four years or the next 40. I believe this to be true based on the past 35 years. I don't believe it anymore than I believe Obama's election would diminish racism or that Hillary's would diminish sexism - perhaps all three nominee's elections could be wonderful symbols, but only in the modern sense of symbols, lacking any substance. These are the kinds of symbols that effect nothing other than making us feel good about ourselves.

Let me say that I am resolutely pro-life. I do not believe abortion is an issue of women's rights but an issue that concerns the dignity and sanctity of life itself. I find the whole mess abominable. And I reject it as firmly as I can along with the Catholic Church and most of Christianity. But that does not mean that I cannot vote for a pro-choice politician because of other moral considerations. Not because they are pro-choice, that would be grave error, but in spite of their being pro-choice. And I can do so in good conscience because, frankly, the Republican party has dropped the ball - if it ever was in play.

I have not, by the way, decided to vote for Senator Obama in November. It may seem so, but that would be a mistaken impression. There is a lot of time between now and then and there needs to be a lot of prayer and consideration. I struggle with this issue constantly. And if you are wondering whether to choose between my wisdom and the archbishop's, I would strongly urge you to follow his Excellency. He is older and has more experience with this issue. And he knows Christ better than I.

We must pray for our parties' nominees - for wisdom, which begins with the fear of God, and for love of all people.

(Let me make a distinction, after all is said and done. It is one thing to vote for a politician in spite of his or her being pro-choice. It is another thing to be a politician and to cast votes against life. These are two very different things, and if you'd like to have that conversation, I would be glad to take it up in the combox.)


onionboy said...

"Now, quickly, I want to say that I am not questioning whether any of these people are Christian or Catholic." Catholics are Christian - in the context of the article I do understand why you make the distinction but overall I think it's one that perpetuates misunderstanding. We might say Christians and leave it at that or in the case of what you are discussing here we might say, evangelicals and Catholics or conservative Christians both evangelicals and Catholics or evangelical Christians and Catholic Christians... you see :) and, of course, this probably matters to me because I have been both :)

Since becoming a Catholic Christian I couldn't tell you how many times, in meeting people I've had first time conversations something like this: "Wonderful, so you are a Christian also?" "Oh, no, I'm Catholic."

Catholic=universal and prior to the 1500s-ish universal Christians was all there was :)

Well, it's a great post and I appreciate the core, the heart of what you are saying. You're a good man Scott and I'm glad to be reconnected with your blog. ::thrive!

Scott Lyons said...

Thanks for the correction, Owen. I agree with you and it does perpetuate misunderstanding. I shouldn't have used it there since I was only talking about Catholics - I usually use it to indicate the difference between Christians who are Catholics and Christians who are not Catholics. But perhaps that's a fuzzy use as well.

Dan said...

I struggle with this very thing. I remember 20 years ago when I was firmly ensconced as a conservative Republican. I now find myself with more and more reasons to loath the Republican party, and the primary saving grace for them is the party's platform on life. Someone recently said to me that the Republican party's stance on life extends only to being pro-birth, and it's absurd when you think of the countless lives lost in Iraq, and the person had a point.

The only reason I will most likely vote for McCain, (and grimace when I do it), is because of the Supreme Court. I agree with you that the abortion rate hasn't changed much, if at all, in the past 35 years, but we haven't a truly conservative majority on the Court. For me personally, voting for Obama would be like voting for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with the assumption that would be the type of liberal minded judge Obama would place on the Supreme Court. That would jeopardize the possibility of overturning Roe v. Wade. It's a hard call, but my voting in the past election was a vote for Judge Roberts, even though I had never heard of him until he was appointed.

Something to think about, I guess.

Scott Lyons said...

At this point, right now, that is probably what would spur me to give the GOP my vote. Though I wonder how pro-life a justice McCain would nominate.

Anonymous said...

McCain has been, personally, a very pro-life politician--about the only place where he failed was regarding stem cells, which puts him in the same camp as 95% of all current national politicians. (I'm hoping, with recent scientific developments, this no longer becomes an issue.)

I'd also like to note that, while the core of abortion is protected by Roe v. Wade, abortion rates have dropped 25% from their 1980 levels. I'd like to think that the incremental restrictions successfully applied on abortion have helped to change the culture in this country, and we'll need someone to lead nationally on the issue, or at least play defense against Congress. Remember the Democrats will have a majority, perhaps a super-majority, in Congress by 2009. One can't expect leadership there.

Of course, since suspect I have rather different views on the economy and foreign policy than you do, my voting for McCain is nowhere near as much a struggle for me as it would be for you. I appreciate that pro-lifers with leftist leaning views on such issues have not had a fun past 30 years. That having been said, count me as one of those "fundies" who freely associates Obama with Moloch: anyone who votes to deny protect to even the newly born deserves such a title.

Scott Lyons said...

Will, I appreciate your throwing in your perspective and ideas. While I'm sure we have differing views on certain issues, I'm quite sure our views on life are nearly if not completely identical.

About McCain: I honestly like much of what McCain has accomplished as a senator - I like that he's more moderate on many issues. I like that he took a stand against the use of torture. I like that he is more compassionate toward Mexican immigrants than many Round-'Em-Up Republicans. What I don't like is that he's backed away from some of his views (not the torture issue, I don't think) during the nomination process.

I was not aware of any great fluctuation in the number of abortions in the past 30 years, so I appreciate the numbers. I would love to see some sites showing those numbers. I'm skeptical about why those numbers may have changed, but I'd love to be convinced in favor of the GOP. I don't personally believe that a party will ever change the reality of abortion in our country - rather that the hearts of Americans need to be convinced/converted. I have seen some encouraging signs among younger people that seem to point toward this happening.

Now I appreciate the cajones it takes to stand up and slap on the "fundie" label under my rules and definitions. We perhaps could agree that the spirit of Moloch is the same spirit that is behind abortion. But as perverse a vote (though logically consistent with pro-choice reasoning) as Senator Obama's was as written about in the link you provided (I was aware of that vote, btw), is there any fundamental difference between abortion and infanticide? Isn't one the same evil as the other? Why the special moniker for Obama? I'm perplexed as to why Moloch is paraded out now when we have been eating our children for 35 years.

Also, while I understand the anger you feel about the senator making such a vote (and, with you, feel the same anger), to specifically link Obama with Moloch isn't right in this way: Our enemy is not flesh and blood. Obama is not my enemy. Moloch is. And I don't see that any good can come out of such a comparison.

Regardless, you and I would agree that our primary action and reaction needs to be that we're driven to prayer about and for our nominees - that their hearts might be converted toward Christ. And every hat in the ring is less than perfect.

Anonymous said...

Your points are well taken, particularly on the Obama/Moloch distinction, but I think this goes back to abortion/infanticide question. On the one hand: no, there isn't really a difference objectively. On the other: it is possible to, with our current climate, to think of a fetus as "just" a clump of cells--those who keep to certain sources of knowledge can preserve that fantasy. It takes another level of applied dehumanization to view a mewling infant as similarly unprotected. I suppose I should give him--and Peter Singer, and otehrs--props for consistency.

Regardless, I do intend to pray for the future president, whomever he happens to be. (It will almost certainly be a he.) And my prayers will likely be identical to what I now pray for President Bush: that he would have the humility to seek God's will, the wisdom to find it, and the courage to live it out. I might fill in the blanks there a bit differently for each candidate, but I trust God to know His own will better than I do.

Finally, I grew up in the California Bay Area, which is one of the most liberal and secular regions in the nation. If I wasn't capably of taking pejoratives on a regular basis--and not just from friends--well, let's just say things would not have gone well for me. So I'm long past the point of caring.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I forgot to link to the abortion drop info:

Actually, the peak was in 1990 and the current data is from 2005, so it's 25% drop in 15 years, not 30.

Scott Lyons said...

I would agree, Will, that it's highly disturbing. Well, it's beyond highly disturbing - it's completely unconscionable.

And thanks for the link - that's encouraging news I hadn't heard before.

Scott Lyons said...

Will, the longer I think about this issue (and it's been some time now), the more convinced I am that it is not about politics or abortion that I'm frustrated - it's about other Christians and how they're behaving. (And, of course, I'm not talking about you here.) The thing that riles me is the force, the ferocity, behind the attitude that says, rather loudly, "If you don't react or think the same way I do about this issue, then how can you be a Catholic?"

The attitude effectively rips away my moral freedom: Tow the line, or else. It never pauses to ask why; it never engages me in love as a brother. It silences and judges. There's something fundamentally wrong here. Even if they are right about the best way to vote, they sin against charity.

I'm not calling anyone, in my post, a fundamentalist because they disagree with me - Archbishop Chaput disagrees admirably and reasonably, and convincingly. I call them fundamentalist because of their condemnation of and contempt for those who think differently from them - and on an issue that the Church herself has given us moral freedom. Even the archbishop does not say that those who vote for Obama are in disobedience to the Church, but seriously cautions those who are thinking about doing so and why. This is the primary reason for this post far more than the abortion issue (because I largely agree with them about abortion) - it's how Christians are reacting and how they treat Christians who react differently.

Anonymous said...

Further comments on the subject from Ross Douthat. Avoid the comment section.