Catholics looking for clarity on the issue of pro-choice politicians may be a bit puzzled by a recent story (search for "Hunte") by John Allen in the September 24, 2004 National Catholic Reporter. Mr Allen reports on the recent decision by the Vatican to bestow a papal knighthood on Julian Hunte, a pro-choice Catholic politician from the West Indies. The award was given by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano for Mr. Hunte's role in the UN with respect to a "resolution regarding the work of the Holy See in the United Nations."
Now, Mr. Hunte is no ordinary "pro-choice Catholic politician." Until last year, abortion was illegal in St. Lucian, where Mr. Hunte sits in the upper chamber of the parliament. Mr. Hunt "cast the deciding vote" in a 5 to 4 decision to legalize abortion. It's not every pro-choice Catholic politician that can claim to have single-handedly legalized abortion in his or her country.
I'm not sure how Mr. Hunte's knighthood fits into the Vatican's campaign against the Culture of Death.
The article surmises that the knighthood is consistent with the Vatican's doctrine of "constructive engagement" with ideas with which it disagrees:
"The idea is that it's better to keep lines of communication open than to burnAh, "constructive engagement." Now I understand. (But would Cardinal Ratzinger?)
bridges. It's as important to encourage positive acts as to condemn negative
ones; after all, Hunte was honored for supporting the Holy See in the U.N., not
for his vote on abortion. Public excoriations may be momentarily satisfying,
seasoned Vatican diplomats argue, but they rarely produce forward movement."
This most interesting of terms reminded me of several posts from the Touchstone blog ("Orthodox Confusion," "More on the Confusion of the Orthodox" and "Still More on the Confusion of the Orthodox" (There's no word on when the post "A Heapin' Helpin' of Orthodox Confusion" will be posted)). The posts discuss an article by a teacher at an Orthodox seminary in New York, which article concludes, essentially, "[n]either party has a monopoly on life and family values: both parties are inconsistent in both areas."
The gents at Touchstone beg to differ:
"We do have a compass, and it is the Scripture and tradition of the church,I have suggested a motivation in this post.
which place priority on the nature of marriage and protection of the fruit of
the marital union above other legitimate concerns of civil society. If you can't
get those two things right, the rest is dressing up the Titanic. And on marriage
and the sanctity of human life, there is a clear difference between the parties. I [editor James Kushiner] can only wonder what motivates people who either
obscure the differences or can't see them, and help obscure them for others." (emphasis supplied)
As interesting was a quote within the second Touchstone post, as follows:
"My take would be this: This essay is yet another example of the false "angelism"I agree with these assessments. If "constructive engagement" means only that we need to seek to maintain a dialogue with those who are not in Truth, then I have no objection to it. (Indeed, I heartily agree, as I hope my post below on Jimmy Swaggert indicates.)
that afflicts so many of our contemporary intellectuals: "you can't pin me down,
I'm above the polarities of the moment." But there is no "above;" at this point
in history, the ideas that activate conservatives, certainly the traditionalist
conservatives, are grounded ultimately in the great Christian heritage;
contemporary liberalism is equally grounded in the Enlightenment and its
essentially anti-Christian conception of human nature. A believing Christian
today will have a very tough time accommodating to the current liberal
doctrines, and will find that to do so will eventually necessitate relinquishing
one Christian teaching after another."
I fear, however, that it means more than that. If constructive engagement means, as it seems to mean to the Vatican in the instance of Mr. Hunt, that Christians have to give medals to those whose beliefs and actions are well outside of the core beliefs of the Church, then I think we had better not adopt it. Given what we face today, we need to be very clear about the Truth. Watering the Truth down is dangerous to our souls and dangerous to the souls of those with whom we are engaging.
Is it important to be attractive to those who are still wandering? Yes, but that comes through our love for them. That is where the Spirit helps us. We can speak the Truth without hate and preach the Good News with love. Indeed, to the extent we Christians clearly articulate our beliefs, I think we win more to the Message--we offer a real difference in this commodified Culture of Death. (The examples to the contrary, those who dilute the Christian message to their demise, are many, with the fading of the US mainline churches providing the pre-eminent example.)
Given his recent series, I am not quite sure how Pastor Mark Roberts would come out on this. The main point of his series, by the way, is that the Church, given its unique place in society, could act as a facilitator of public discourse on political issues. He has many good reasons for this and I encourage you to read the whole series (I will post later on some further thoughts on this theme).
However, in his last post, he also states:
"The role of the church is not unlike mine as preacher. Rather than tellingNow, there is much that is admirable in this statement. However, I (and, if I read them right, some of the folks at Touchstone) say that if your desire is really to "teach and proclaim biblical truth," then, at least on balance, I believe your conscience should lead you to pick one party over another. At least for now, I must say that is the Republican Party. Is that party without fault? Of course not. It is a human institution and is not dedicated to proclaiming the truth of Christ, so it is fallible. However, on balance, it offers a range of political answers that allow a Christian to square his or her beliefs with his or her politics. I'm not even sure that it's a close call.
people, 'You must care for the poor, so support Democratic causes' or 'You must
care for the poor, so vote Republican,' the church's task is to teach and
proclaim biblical truth, including biblical truth concerning poverty. The
church's job is to call our members, and, indeed, all people, to care for the
poor. It is to point out the distressing reality of poverty, both in America and
throughout the world, and to inspire action that will lead to the alleviation of
poverty. Moreover, our task is to work for the transformation of human hearts,
so that people might be less materialistic, more generous, and more
compassionate. This last task, one that the church uniquely embraces, is perhaps
the most important of all."
How Democrats respond to poverty is often a point made in their favor by Christians. I suppose that, to some, being coerced with the threat of jail to give your taxes to the government to support the needy is ennobling. I suppose I disagree. It is a pale vision of charity. It does nothing for the giver. In addition, the government doesn't appear to be especially good at meeting needs in any event. (This being the government that, in order for a family to receive AFDC, required that no male above a certain age be living in a house. I'm not sure that this rule has been especially helpful to the poor in our cities, particularly minority families.)
In any event, we should all pray, read the Scripture and vote our conscience. I don't think we should water down our discourse, although we should always be polite and treat others with respect. Above all, we should love all of God's children--this is what will make us attractive, even to those with whom we disagree.
(My thanks to Matt Thompson for passing on the National Catholic Reporter story and for providing me his thoughts on Pastor Roberts' series above, which thoughts influenced this post.)