Politicians and Church Platforms
MM is leading a campaign to protest a book-signing of Newt Gingrich’s latest book to be held at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in D.C. The book is “To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular-Socialist Regime” and Amazon provides a description.
For once, I agree with MM: the book-signing is a bad idea. I’m a very big believer of separation of church from state, and I don’t like the appearance that the Church is being co-opted here. The book isn’t religious; it’s political. Even if I would agree with what he says in the book, I’d rather it not be promoted by being offered at a Catholic bookstore, much less be publicized through a book-signing.
Unfortunately, this is not the grounds that is offered to oppose it. Instead, we find references to Newt’s “hyper-partisan” nastiness, his racism, and his serial adultery. I don’t wish to get into an argument about the virtues and vices of Newt’s career or his potential presidential candidacy (in part b/c being of the generation I am, I have little knowledge of what Newt did). However, I do find it useful for thinking about how the Church interacts with politics, in part b/c it’s not the only example in the last week. Tony Blair wrote a column published on the front page of the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, in anticipation of the Pope’s visit to the UK. There are a number of problems with Blair’s political career from the Church’s view, including his support for legalized abortion, gay marriage and the invasion of Iraq. While it doesn’t appear that Blair has political aspirations any longer, it brings up the question of how much past political failings ought to deter Church officials from granting a stage to politicians, particularly repentant ones?
Both Newt & Blair have converted to the Catholic faith; both did so under some question (Newt w/ his divorces and Blair by waiting until there could be no political consequences). Neither appear to have fully embraced Church teaching (Blair on social issues & the war; Newt on social justice). Yet both are being offered very nice Church platforms.
And Blair isn’t exactly promoting Catholicism 100% in his column. He writes
To decide what makes a “true” development, the presupposition was certain of the teaching of the Church. But Newman defined the consensus of the entire “body of the faithful” on doctrinal questions as “the voice of the infallible Church.” I ask myself if this voice is likewise taken seriously enough or if we have we have understood fully the implications of these ideas. The tendency of some religious leaders to insert a great number of differing ideas in one big package with the label of “secularism” and then consider it as something of the Left creates divisions in pluralist societies. This precludes the Church from possibilities of new developments of thought. The dialogues of the Popes with important secular thinkers are, by contrast, a very different example.
I think that Newman would be a strong ally in the promotion of diverse forms of dialogue among the religions thanks to his theory of development. Intuitively it could seem otherwise. Newman, like Pope Benedict, himself fierily opposed relativism. But the interreligious activity of my Faith Foundation produces the opposite of relativism, confirms people in their different faiths, and maintains respect and understanding for the faith of others. Linking schools and faiths throughout the world, joining universities together in interdisciplinary courses on faith and globalization, working in an interreligious way to promote the Millennium Development Goals, many share our idea, wanting to deepen their consciousness of their own faith.
Benedict is about many things, but “confirming people in their different faiths” is not one of them. Perhaps I’m paranoid, but I have a strong suspicion that Blair thinks the over-broad package of secularism includes homosexuality and abortion.
So in Gingrich is to be opposed not just b/c he’s seeking political office but also because he is using his platform in a way to frustrate Church teaching (i.e. promote a hyper-partisan nastiness that prevents the authentic discourse the bishops have sought), then Blair’s column similarly ought not to be allowed. Although MM has not commented on the Blair situation, I wonder if he would agree with the decision to air Blair’s column. After all, he has often noted how the Vatican is above the petty sentiments that make pro-lifers angry when politicians use Church platforms to promotes themselves and their favor towards abortion.
But if the concerns of pro-lifers ought to be ignored when inviting speakers, why not the concerns of those who want less hyper-partisan discourse? If Obama and Blair can speak, why not Newt?
The best answer is for the Church to be consistent and stronger. Instead of being mats for politicians, Church leaders ought to be guardians of their platforms, wary of political figures who seek to commandeer them. This includes those who advocate torture, racism, abortion, gay marriage, etc. So I’ll agree with Minion this time; but if Obama tries to speak at another Catholic college, I hope he’ll agree with me.