Friday, September 27, 2013
Robert Christian is the editor of the Millennial blog, which is a rising voice among young-adult Catholics, and a fellow with Democrats for Life of America, where he edits and contributes to DFLA's "Everyday Life" blog. Today he writes at the Washington Post's "On Belief" page, on whether the re-sets in tone and priorities suggested by the Pope's recent statements could "help end the culture wars." He writes that the "commitment to all life," the unborn and those vulnerable in other ways,
is partly responsible for [Francis's] call to rebalance church teaching, to move it away from a legalistic focus on a handful of moral teachings, including abortion, at the cost of proclaiming the Gospel and welcoming new faces into the church. . . .
Pope Francis warns, “We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.” This new balance does not entail an abandonment of church teaching on abortion, but a full embrace of the moral and social teachings of the Church, and a recognition that Catholicism is about more than a political agenda or even its understanding of justice in the contemporary world.
I think Robert does an excellent job of reflecting on the priorities the Pope is reemphasizing. It's undeniable, to me, that some of those embroiled in the culture wars have wrongly prioritized other matters over the core of the Gospel. (Of course Christians of many theological and political stripes have done that over the centuries.) Consider Cardinal Burke's recent interview with The Wanderer, where he states that the homosexual-rights movement is "a lie about the most fundamental aspect of our human nature, our human sexuality, which after life itself defines us." [ADDED: HT on the Burke interview: Michael Sean Winters] I can appreciate the importance of complementarity, but ... sexuality is right after life in defining us? When the interviewer asked "Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?," the Pope answered, "I am a sinner." It seems Cardinal Burke might answer, "I am a male." I understand that Galatians 3:28--in Christ "there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female"--obviously does not eliminate the relevance of sexual nature in all respects. But I don't think Cardinal Burke's response quite reflects the prophetic content of that verse.
Before we are men and women, conservatives or liberals, we are all sinners--redeemed, we hope and pray, by grace. Living mindful of that fact can help us treat each other with respect and charity even when we disagree, or when the other person has erred. In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln could conclude with the call to "bind up the nation's wounds' and care for the widow and orphan"--"with malice toward none [and] charity for all"--in significant part because he had just acknowledged that both sides "read the same Bible and pray to the same God"--suggesting that the North had its role in slavery as well.
So yes, I agree, an emphasis like the Pope's on the core of the Gospel--"I am a [redeemed] sinner, serving others out of gratitude"--can help temper the culture wars.
With that said, it's crucial to remember that many people want the Church not just to reprioritize its beliefs on sexuality, but to give them up, under state pressure if that's necessary. Catholic and other traditionalist organizations could spend massive amounts of time and money helping the poor--they do, of course--and some on the other side of the culture wars will still keep pressing to marginalize those organizations by means of regulation, the denial of tax exemption or other general government benefits, and so on. So while, as I see it, traditionalist Christians have gotten their priorities very wrong in many instances, changing those priorities won't make the culture war go away entirely. The other side won't abandon it.