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.

25 Responses to Politicians and Church Platforms

  • When you write of Newt’s racism what exactly are you refering to?

  • I’ll emphasize that I have no idea whether he is racist or not, but the comments he is being criticized for at VN are comments he made about the Kenyan origins of some of Obama’s socialist beliefs. MM writes:

    No, this has everything to do with Gingrich’s hyper-partisan nastiness, and his deliberate strategy of appealing to the worst in people with ugly and offensive statements – the latest being an attack on Obama for having a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” worldview. Even worse is Gingrich’s tendency to make insulting and inflammatory statements about Muslims, including by likening them to nazis.

  • Even worse is Gingrich’s tendency to make insulting and inflammatory statements about Muslims, including by likening them to nazis.

    Yes, we are all familiar with Vox Nova’s notorious aversion to likening others to Nazis; it obviously troubles M.Z. very deeply.

    Newt’s remarks about Muslims are pernicious, no doubt about it, but I can’t imagine MM would be this up in arms if Ted Kennedy had done a book signing a couple years ago. And this isn’t nearly as much of an endorsement as the ND/Obama commencement speaker episode, about which I don’t remember MM being particularly upset. On balance, sure, maybe Gingrich shouldn’t have a book signing there; but of all the things to call or write about it, it seems pretty far down on the list to me – at any rate, the primary motivation seems to be partisan in this particular case.

  • Given the way that MM and michael so cheaply throw around the term “racist” (usually for the purposes of status-posturing), it’s not particularly helpful to focus in on that point (although an open and charitable discussion about the meaning of the term would be welcome).

    In any event, the issue is a good one. Gingrich and Blair are poor examples of living the Catholic faith for a public figure, but they are also converts little experienced in the faith, and that point is true of every public figure (some, granted, are worse than others, and few worse than the current Speaker).

    I don’t see a big problem, and would be fine if Pelosi had an event there. Providing a platform does not suggest endorsement as much as it does dialogue, although providing an honor is a very different story.

    It might be best to keep all politicans out unless they are taking Communion or giving confession, just like anyone else.

  • Of all the goofy books one can find at many Church run book stores, this one has to be protested? Whether Newt has truly repented for his many moral failures is known to God and his confessor. However, to protest against him when we have all matter of nutty left wing Catholics signing books and selling them in Church owned stores is beyond me. Michael, you say the book isn’t religious. Maybe to Newt and those who will read the book, it has a religious componenet to it. As liberal government and liberal Catholicism goes down in a ball of flames, the best way to help them is to bring them into the light, not stand there and protest with them.

  • Meant to write that almost all public figures fail to live out the Catholic faith very well.

    Anyway, why not offer speaking platforms on occasion and honor no elected official? This especially makes sense for Catholic universities, as a credential does leave a stamp of approval upon its recipient.

  • Providing a platform does not suggest endorsement as much as it does dialogue, although providing an honor is a very different story.

    I think that brings up an interesting question. I wouldn’t have a problem if a Catholic university invited Obama to give a speech about his belief on abortion rights-as long as there was some other worthy figure them to provide a counter-balance.

    My question is then this: how do Catholic platforms manage to be more than simply a platform and more a place of dialogue? Does simply providing a situation where dialogue can occur be enough or should Church leaders strive to build into the events/platform some kind of dialogue?

  • Has anyone bothered to even check if “To Save America” is the book/dvd that Gingrich is signing? Because he also has a recent documentary on John Paul II’s involvement with the Solidarity movement called “9 Days that Changed the World.” He’s been promoting that fairly heavily to Catholic organizations, and held some screenings and sales of the DVD out in my neck of the woods a few months ago.

  • No, this has everything to do with…hyper-partisan nastiness, and his deliberate strategy of appealing to the worst in people with ugly and offensive statements

    Pleased to see Minion repudiate Paul Krugman and Bradford deLong.

  • I imagine that’s the DVD, but there’s no book attached to it to my knowledge. I couldn’t find out what’s being offered.

    It does change things if it’s just the DVD; however the DVD with the book doesn’t change anything to my mind.

  • I’ve spelled out my own opion on this over at Vox-Nova, but I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has seen the DVD “9 Days That Changed the World” whether and to what extent it *is* primarily religious/spiritual/heck even cultural and not a political propaganda piece. That this video is produced by the same group, Citizens United Productions, which produced America At Risk, and whose website speaks for itself(http://www.citizensunited.org/ makes me suspicious about “9 Days”–not having seen it.

  • I’m uneasy about the signing, though it is hard to form a confident opinion without more facts. But as a matter of principle it is important for the Church to not behave or appear partisan. This concern for church/state “separation” is not grounded in the First Amendment (which does not speak of any such separation), but in the values and integrity of the Church.

  • Michael – to be (somewhat) fair to the Basilica, the medium Gingrich is promoting is his religious-themed one, not his Obama-is-Hitler one. Still, the issue is not the content of the book, but the grave public scandal. Let’s say Nancy Pelosi decided to publish a book of her favorite prayers, and all agreed that the prayers were beautiful – should a Catholic church host a book signing? I think that would be most imprudent (and the same goes for Ted Kennedy, since somebody mentioned it).

    It’s funny how people around here were so quick to express their frustration with “Bush Derangement Syndome” and “Godwin’s Law” during the Bush years. Now, it is apparently no big deal that one of the most senior Republicans can claim that his opponents are more dangerous than Nazis, or play with racist fire by calling the president a “Kenyan anti-colonialist”.

    As for the Blair situation, I have not been following it, but I certainly do not hold Tony Blair in high esteem. He seems to have converted without any understanding of the consistent ethic of life.

  • The Nancy Pelosi example actually does not trouble me that much. It would be more scandalous to bestow upon her an honor ala the honorary degree awarded by ND to Obama. Simply giving her a forum to share her favorite prayers does not strike me as crossing the line, though I appreciate others might differ.

  • Still, the issue is not the content of the book, but the grave public scandal.

    How can the two be separated? I would have less concern with Pelosi hawking her “Favorite Prayers” book in a Catholic forum than her “Augustine: The Doctor of Abortion” book.

  • or play with racist fire by calling the president a “Kenyan anti-colonialist”.

    Your complaint on this point is contrived.

  • “Your complaint on this point is contrived.”

    And mundane given how the racism card is played against every critique of Obama.

  • Michael – to be (somewhat) fair to the Basilica, the medium Gingrich is promoting is his religious-themed one, not his Obama-is-Hitler one. Still, the issue is not the content of the book, but the grave public scandal.

    Is there a book attached to the DVD though? I mean, it says book & DVD signing but I only see a DVD about the JPII/Solidarity, not a book. Perhaps I need to keep up more with Newt’s offerings lol.

    Now, it is apparently no big deal that one of the most senior Republicans can claim that his opponents are more dangerous than Nazis, or play with racist fire by calling the president a “Kenyan anti-colonialist”.

    Well, he’s out of office and has been so for a long time. If he actually runs for president instead of profiting off of people who want him to, then of course higher standards will apply (i.e. any stupid comment he makes, he gets roasted). That said, I think his comments about Nazis are over the top and his comments about Kenya appear to have very weak justifications.

    On another note, is there a distinction between Newt & Obama? I remember you thought the outrage over Notre Dame was unjustified (if I’m wrong about this, correct me) and I’m curious if there’s another line you think has been crossed here that wasn’t with Obama.

  • Yes, we are all familiar with Vox Nova’s notorious aversion to likening others to Nazis; it obviously troubles M.Z. very deeply.

    You’ll have to help me on that one.

    As to Newt, I tend to avoid commentary on him. Yes, I am scandalized that he was married in a Catholic church. As long as he isn’t speaking from a pulpit, I don’t really care what what public venues he avails himself. Too much effort is spent attempting to discern an implied intent so people can be scandalized. Sometimes folks just want to be scandalized. I’m not claiming this is a particular case, just saying.

  • That doubtless is a reference to the Catholic Anarchist’s charming habit of calling everyone but himself and God a fascist, and I don’t think he is quite sure about God. However I do not think he is currently writing at Vox Nova, but is on detached duty with his parody blog entitled, what else?, The American Fascist.

  • The statement on “embracing the churches teaching on Social Justice” makes me crazy.

    The catholic left likes to wear this on their sleeve and wave it about anytime the ‘orthodox” Catholics speak to the issues of life (abortion, gay marriage, contraceptive). I believe that social justice can be summarized to mean allowing each person the right to have enough of the basic necessities to feed and shelter oneself and ones family, and making sure each person is treated fairly under the law. To hear some people talk the only way you can get to heaven is if you support big government welfare programs. This is one of those issues that allows for differing opinions. I believe that the best way to bring about social justice is to allow for a climate that promotes job growth and allows people to earn their own way. You know teaching a man to fish versus giving them a fish.

    Sorry, the social justice tag line is a pet peeve of mine.

  • Why make this so complicated? Not everyone who professes Lord, Lord is a friend of the church and Jesus warns of wolves wearing sheep clothing. You have noted that these men have converted to Catholicism, why judge your brethen so harshly and let the fruits of their labor post conversion be their judge…and what of you that have plank in your eye? and who without sin can cast the stone? There is no merit in the auguments of separation of the church and state…it is rhetoric usually uttered by enemies of
    truth and faith. Lastly it is a gift store, who says because it is run by the church it should limit it inventory to religious items…so if the bhudda belly found its way there…would you say, oh it should be catholic, religious items? Your points are worth consideration but Newt and Blair aren’t the moral compasses…the Bible, Magisterium, and Catholic tradition as basis for all matters.

  • Winkyb:

    Other than “don’t judge,” I honestly have no idea what you’re trying to say.

  • @Denton I thought I was clear…regarding your judgement. What is it you don’t understand?

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