The Battles Ahead

“We are all Catholics now.”

That’s from Glenn Beck, a person I don’t listen to often, for a variety of reasons.  Interesting clip, though, which I found via The Daily Eudemon.  That line is towards the end and echoes something I’ve been saying for months now regarding military chaplains and the now ended Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy of gays in the military.  The Catholic chaplains have a very large, very united, very explicit Magisterium to protect them from government pressure.

That’s not to say that the government won’t apply any pressure, or won’t try to use the typical American Catholic’s unorthodox attitude against it (see the HHS Mandate controversy as governmental SOP in how to divide and conquer the Catholic Church).  And it’s not to say that the government won’t win this battle, either.  But if the Magisterium, that is, the teaching authority of the Church as a whole (not just the American slice of it), remains firm (as I expect it should, since it is Divinely protected), then devout priests (and lay people) will have it to cling to, regardless of what happens in the American political scene.  The USCCB might lose, but the USCCB is not the Catholic Church.  A priest (or lay person) might be persecuted, but in the global picture, his side will win.  It is much easier to be a martyr foot soldier, if you know you are Right (with a capital R) and have confidence that your side will, eventually, be victorious.

Conservative, non-Catholic chaplains in the military are already fearing for their freedom of religion and facing perceived pressure to not be opposed to gay marriage.  Oh, the government hasn’t said – yet – that they must perform such weddings.  But some are getting the message that to be openly opposed to gay marriage would be harmful to their career.  And they have no Magisterium to shield them.  While American Catholics can point to the USCCB, who, frankly, is unproven and unpredictable in battle against the government, and say, “They aren’t where the buck stops,” few Protestants have an international church that is as clear and consistent in its teachings as the Catholic Church.  2000 years of saying the exact same thing over and over again has a lot of weight.

The burden of protecting religious freedom in America falls on the Catholic Church.  If the government can get the USCCB to submit to its demands, whether that be the HHS mandate or gay marriage or any other issue, true freedom of religion will cease to exist in the United States.  And compromise equates with submission.  There is no middle ground here when the government mandates things contrary to Church teaching: either we obey our God or we obey our government.

I started watching (again) a documentary on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Protestant theologian in Germany during WWII.  I only watched about 15 minutes the last time I tried (before falling asleep), but last night got about halfway through before going to bed.  A good deal of the movie so far shows how the Protestant churches fell in line with the Nazis from the beginning for a variety of reasons, and how the Catholic bishops in Germany reached a “Konkordant,” an agreement where each organization would basically leave each other alone and not say anything bad about the other.

I suppose it is easy to look back now and point out their naivete.  The point is that if the government can marginalize religion, remove it as a player in the political scene, then it becomes free to violate all human freedoms, not just religious ones.

My bishop had his pastors read another letter this past Sunday, and my pastor concluded the reading by asking that we be aware and informed of what is going on.  The bishop asked for prayers for the Catholic groups who have filed suit against the government and the HHS Mandate, although our diocese is not one of them.  I fear too many Catholics, even those who attend Mass every Sunday, do not see the big picture, don’t know the issues, or listen to the media who portrays the HHS Mandate issue as a freedom to use birth control issue, and not a freedom of religion issue.  The government is banking on this.  If the bishops do not have the support of the lay people, it will be a much harder battle.

Just ask any lay Catholic who has been fighting these issues for decades with no help from the bishops.

7 thoughts on “The Battles Ahead

  1. Awesome. Well said. Our pastor preached on this as well and read the letter. He was pretty specific about our responsibilities as Catholics in this fight, not the least of which is to be properly informed, so we can counter those that say it's about freedom to use contraception. You're right that SO many people don't get it. IT's up to us that do to make sure they are informed.

  2. Unless pastors continue to bang away on this issue, they will lose the fight because most people are just stupid (no offense) about their rights. And because specific candidates' names can not be mentioned (due to non-profit tax status) this is an unfair fight. If he wins again I can't see Catholics winning the war in America. Globally, yes, you are right.

    Sadly even many Catholics (possibly still half?) support him. I'll never understand it personally, but unions are a big part of it. And they don't care if they drag the Church down.

  3. Eric Metaxas wrote a great biography of Bonhoeffer if you're looking for more – nicely details Bonhoeffer's journey from a more liberal/theoretical “social” religion to a strong and vibrant faith.

    An interesting comment on not always seeing the strength you'd like from American Catholic church/some bishops, but having the very-reliable magisterium at one's back. We've found our local church/pastor/presbytery/national church extremely strong on these issues – they stand 100% against the HHS mandate because they too believe in the sanctity of human life, and the importance of religious freedom, and know it is a catholic (small c/universal) church issues vs. a Catholic (just affecting the Roman Catholic church) issue. I've never been associated with a particular denomination, instead attending whichever church happened to be strongest in the town we were currently living in (something I think is fairly common among Protestants, just as some Catholics always seek out the closest Tridentine Mass). It is, of course, difficult to generalize, but there are two possible effects of having as many Protestant denominations as we do. One might be a very strong loyalty to just one denomination, a tiny subset of the available churches, ignoring all others. I have to say what I see more often is a broad loyalty and connection to the church at large vs. a denominational loyalty – most conservative/orthodox/evangelical/reformed/whateveryoucallit protestants I know do not particularly about care or emphasize their deonominational association as long as it's a strong biblical church. In that sense, I think many of them are very likely to be aware of attacks on other churches and see them as their fight as Christians vs. “those guys” fight as another denomination. In this sense, I've always felt a very strong connection to the universal church, including our heritage in the Catholic church. Not to paint an overly rosy picture – there's some ridiculously nasty sniping that goes on out there – but just to give my two cents as a protestant. It's something that very much surprised my Catholic husband – hard to explain exactly, but he was used, as a Catholic, to view other churches as entirely “other”, and was surprised at how open and inter-connected and supportive the flow was among protestant deonminations vs. a rigid isolation of one group. Does that make any sense at all? I'm not yet fully caffeinated this morning :-).

  4. Barbara, I read the other day an article – don't know where – that described the general problem as one of not so much ignorance, really, but of lack of understanding (OK, ignorance) that fundamental Christian values brought us to the civilized state we enjoy, and that there is a disbelief that by doing away with such values we won't then, eventually, revert back to that baser state. So, Christianity brings enlightenment that, namely, all human beings have equal dignity and therefore should have equal protection under law – this truly is a core social message (not a faith message, but a societal one) of Christianity which stood in stark contrast to, for example, Roman law, which accepted slavery and class systems and infanticide and rights for Roman citizens vs non-Roman citizens, etc. Now, centuries later, we no longer need that value system (Christianity) to keep us on track with human rights – we'll manage just fine without a guiding moral imperative (a church). This is false, of course, but one can see how, like a 2 or 3 yo who says “I can do it!” and refuses assistance from a parent, we've gotten to that point in history where we're too blind (OK, stupid) to realize that no, really, we need a higher authority to keep us civilized.

  5. Sarah, I do think many Catholics view Protestants as “other”, but I also think many Catholics, like myself, have found a higher level of comraderie among conservative Protestants who share the same worries and values than with notional Catholics who disagree with the Church on many issues (abortion being a big one, where I would align myself with non-Catholics who agreed with me on this vs Catholics who disagreed with me).

    But your point that many Protestants do not belong, necessarily, to a particular denomination, especially non-liturgical Protestants, is exactly my point and what weakens Protestant “churches” as a unified front against governmental intrusion. My biggest biggest issue with the HHS mandate, and the attempted pacification of the Church, is that the government seemed willing to allow some very narrow exceptions for an actual parish, but, besides not permitted exceptions for Catholic INSTITUTIONS, did not permit exceptions for Catholic INDIVIDUALS. I, a Catholic business owner of a secular business, should not have to do things that are against my religion. I think most Protestants, due to lack of unity, fall under the same category. Your particular church, or your values, may oppose gay marriage, but you have no individual freedom of religion – only an institutional freedom with no institution to back you up.

  6. Michelle, you give me too much credit. 😉
    I really was referring to the very specific issue (ignorance of rights) of freedom to use birth control vs freedom to have and practice religious beliefs.

    But you are so correct, Americans generally don't feel they need religion to keep them on the straight and narrow. Or maybe more precisely, they trust the government to do what's right.

    My brother-in-law and his wife are perfect examples. Both journalists. Both believe as long as they live within their own moral right and wrong they are just fine. But their “value system” created uniquely by their “domestic church” (which includes no God) says abortion, gay marriage, and the government giving us what we need to live, is perfectly fine. They, I fear, are the vocal majority.

  7. I guess what I was trying to say (albeit very incoherently 🙂 ) is that protestants are more unified than one might think looking at the number of denominations. Despite the apparent divisions of denominations, they are often quick to band together across denominations b/c they self-define as “Christian” vs., e.g., “Baptist”. You're right that it is different, though, from the type of automatic and organized unity in the Catholic church.

    I really like your point about the fundamental Christian values that brought us to this point, and a lack of understanding about what happens when you do away with those values.

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