Will partisan politics be the end of the church?
American bishops have been visible in the media the last few months with the Affordable Care Act contraception controversy, the appointment of an archbishop to oversee the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and the investigation of the Girl Scouts. As we approach the proposed “Fortnight For Freedom,” it’s becoming apparent that the bishops are not speaking universally for their flocks.
Faith in Public Life reports that last week, a group of lay Catholics in Washington D.C. (one of the dioceses that has filed a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act) spoke out against the polarizing rhetoric that had invaded their parish bulletin lately, which had published the document “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty” and a plea urging parishioners to “Act on Your Beliefs While You Still Can.”
In the letter the signees noted that even among themselves, they disagree about some of the details and provisions of the Affordable Care Act relating to contraception coverage. However, what they could all agree on was that the inflated rhetoric used to talk about the issue is unacceptable and actually a danger to the church. Said the letter:
“We are deeply concerned that, under cover of a campaign for religious liberty, the provision of universal health care–a priority of Catholic social teaching from the early years of the last century–is being turned into a wedge issue in a highly-charged political environment and that our parish, and indeed the wider church, is in danger of being rent asunder by partisan politics. We, as a group, may have differing views as to the wisdom of the details of the Health and Human Services mandate, against which our archdiocese has now announced a lawsuit in federal court, but we are united in our concern that the bishops’ alarmist call to defend religious freedom has had the effect of shutting down discussion.”
We are reminded every day of threats to religious freedom around the globe. In their letter, the parishioners acknowledged this fact, saying, “We find it grotesque to have the call for this 'Fortnight' evoke the names of holy martyrs who died resisting tyranny. And we are concerned that the extremist rhetoric used to describe the 'threat to our freedoms' both undermines the credibility of our church and insults those in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia who are truly suffering for their faith.”
Over the last few months many Catholics have voiced an opinion that they don’t want to hear about politics at Mass. The opposite is also true, as more people report that they don’t want to hear about religion from politicians.
Is it possible to have civil discourse on such divisive topics that affect our political and religious lives? People are all different and form an infinite range of opinions on every subject, but a wonderful thing about that is that religion and faith can unite people who might otherwise not have much in common and grow a community from them. People don't have to believe the exact same things for this to happen, but despite differences, there is the common ground of our faith experience as a starting point for discussion.
The letter voiced what it saw as the scariest part of the entire situation: “That our church becomes tragically reduced to a partisan player in an election-year campaign and that our parish community becomes a battleground and no longer a source of spiritual strength.”
How long will people continue to remain in the church if they no longer feel that it is a place for spiritual nourishment? Will politics continue to push people away from religion?
These questions are not likely to be addressed during the Fortnight for Freedom.