The False Charge of “Politicizing the Church”

Deal W. Hudson
October 12, 2010

Popular Catholic blogger Jeff Miller of the Curt Jester thinks my notion of a Catholic Tea Party is a “bad idea.” It may, in fact, be a bad idea, but if so, not for the reasons he gives.

There’s no need to rehearse the entire argument because it comprises variations on a single theme: the undesirability of politicizing the Church and of identifying it with a single party. While my adaptation of the Tea Party movement no doubt has political associations, any careful reader of my columns on the subject will notice that the Catholic frustration I describe arises directly from the lack of decisive action from most bishops and the USCCB in regards to abortion, pro-abortion Catholic politicians, and President Barack Obama’s health-care legislation.

Thus, I can’t understand why Miller doesn’t recognize our fundamental agreement when he rightly states:

Ultimately there are only orthodox and heterodox Catholics. But among orthodox Catholics, there is also a large room for prudential disagreements on how best to live and to apply the Catholic faith.

The potential of a Catholic Tea Party, as I see it, is rooted in the commitment to orthodoxy – a commitment that should include an unabashed defense of the unborn. If Miller wants to call this a “partisan” position in the manner of Obama’s Catholic supporters, then there is little left to say. Likewise, if he thinks to engage the scandal of Catholic support for Obamacare is “politicizing” the Church, then I simply throw up my hands.

I am guessing here, but I suspect the only reason Miller and others make this charge of partisanship is because of my association with the Republican Party. But what public figures – outside of the clergy – don’t have associations with political parties? Does that make anyone with a party association guilty of politicizing the Church, arguing only for partisan purposes?

I have yet to see – though I would be thrilled to be proven wrong – a single Catholic with ties to the Democratic Party accused of “partisanship.” For example, Miller argues:

When you confuse the faith with a political party it makes it easier for someone in the other party to dismiss you.

Yes, Catholics who are Republicans can be dismissed for their party affiliation, but no one ever thinks to make the same argument against a Catholic Democrat. Why is that? The answer is found in the social history of Catholics in America over the past 100 years, as Miller himself deftly summarizes.

Unfortunately, the Curt Jester’s point of view also suffers from a fundamental naivete� about politics. For example, he says:

It is such nonsense in politics to accuse others of not having what are really basic agreements. The real disagreements come into place in regards to prudential decisions on how to best achieve these goals.

Has Miller not noticed that many voters – even Catholic voters – do not agree with the Declaration of Independence on the inalienable right to life? That’s precisely why the abortion issue drives so much of American politics because it contains a basic disagreement over the very meaning of human life.

Yes, there are cases where prudential differences are mistaken for more fundamental disagreements, but that’s hardly the case with Catholics who support Obama and his pro-abortion policies. You do not vote for policies that will increase the number of abortions, even if you think the overall quality of healthcare will improve. That’s proportionalism, pure and simple.

Miller then drags out the much-abused claim about expressions of hate, presumably by Tea Partiers or myself, toward their political opponents:

Criticism of policies that don’t meet the goals, of course, is fair play, but the polemics of people saying the other side hates such and such is useless. These types of polarizations do way too much damage, and as Catholics, we really should assume good motives of others even if we totally disagree with their means of achieving something.

I don’t get it: Where’s the hate? Miller acknowledges that it’s legitimate to oppose a political party that supports “an intrinsic evil such as abortion” – thank you! – but adds:

This should be done without lapsing into the hatred and demonization of those who hold opinions supporting intrinsic evils. Loving our enemies means both that we can have real enemies and that our primary motive must be to seek their repentance.

First, Miller should realize that hard-fought political campaigns are hard fought. Furthermore, “hatred” and “demonization” are something else entirely, and most men and women actually in politics avoid this extreme if only because they know it will backfire.

Finally, Miller laments the identification of the Catholic faith with one political party over the other for the moral relativism it engenders. He gives two examples: First, he notes the gradual acceptance of abortion by Catholic Democrats. Then he lays out the great crime of the Catholics in the GOP:

The same thing happened when torture was used by the Bush administration and once again moral relativists decided that an evil could be promoted to bring a greater good. Way too few Catholics who were Republicans spoke against this outrage and mostly went on to advance the same moral relativistic arguments the pro-abortion types advanced.

So in other words, 40 years of Catholic Democratic advocacy of abortion is thus equated with the arguments supporting waterboarding by Marc Thiessen, a single Catholic member of the Bush administration.

“He jests at scars that never felt a wound,” Romeo says of Mercutio before climbing over the garden wall to seek the lady, Juliet. If the Curt Jester thinks my encouragement of a Catholic Tea Party is part of a strategy to align Catholics with the GOP, he too mistakes whom I truly love.


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