Catholic in the Public Square"...the truth will set you free." John 8:32
We Must Seek Truth over Political Ideology
In reading the recent WNY Catholic article “Racism – America’s Original Sin,” I agree with much that is stated by the author Deacon Don Weigel and I thank him for it: Racism is evil. It is a sin. It does endure in our society and in our Church. And in some measure it is likely present in every human heart, and therefore is a worthy point of consideration in every examination of conscience.
On the other hand, I found the article smacked of a latent political bias that revealed itself explicitly at two points in particular.
First Point – Deacon Weigel references Jim Wallis as a trusted source. Jim Wallis is the poster boy of a Christian writer infected with political bias. Wallis embraces the label of “progressive evangelical” and has allowed his allegiance to the political left to foul up his understanding of reality (full disclosure: Wallis has worked for the Obama Administration, including serving as a spiritual advisor to President Obama).
Wallis is of a political camp that has co-opted what is known as the “Consistent Life Ethic” or “The Seamless Garment.” The original understanding of this idea is quite Catholic: a holistic reverence for life that opposes abortion, capital punishment, assisted suicide, and euthanasia. But this is where Wallis and others on the political left distort the teaching to align with their ideological ends. They sneak in the intellectual poison by minimizing the evil of abortion and raising other concerns as more important. In doing so they falsely marginalize abortion as just one issue among many, applying no greater weight to it than they extend to any of the others, or even giving it less weight than other concerns.
For instance, Wallis argues: “I don’t think that abortion is the moral equivalent issue to slavery that Wilberforce dealt with. I think that poverty is the new slavery. Poverty and global inequality are the fundamental moral issues of our time. That’s my judgment.”
This deception that minimizes and marginalizes the evil of abortion has sadly become quite popular even within the Church, but no one should be so deceived as to call this position Catholic. Catholic teaching has been incredibly clear on this point. Most recently in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship the U.S. Catholic Bishops state that the culture of life begins “with the preeminent obligation to protect innocent life from direct attack.” Secondarily and flowing from this preeminent obligation, the culture of life “extends to defending life whenever it is threatened or diminished.”
Rightly understanding this hierarchy of moral value matters. The practical ramifications play out in deciding which goals to pursue and in determining how much energy and resources to expend. We are able to see this very clearly in looking at where Wallis lands in his conclusions versus where the U.S. Bishops stand.
Wallis argues, “Everybody tends to agree that preventing unwanted pregnancies is a good thing. I’m saying, let’s take it to the next step and say that abortion reduction is a good thing too. It’s about providing options—not taking away a woman’s right to choose, but making things like adoption easier.”
Do you see the sugar-covered poison here? Wallis wraps a grave error in truth. He uses goods like abortion reduction and adoption to argue for keeping the evil of abortion legal. This is a terrible blunder at best. We must understand the vital importance of not just seeking to reduce the number of abortions, but to make the killing of unborn children illegal and unthinkable.
In making clear that “not all issues are equal,” the U.S. Bishops reach a much different conclusion than Wallis. The U.S. Bishops express ten goals in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. These goals “address matters of different moral weight and urgency” and the Bishops make clear which goal is first: “Address the preeminent requirement to protect the weakest in our midst—innocent unborn children—by restricting and bringing to an end the destruction of unborn children through abortion and providing women in crisis pregnancies the supports they need to make a decision for life.”
The Catholic position is clear and uncompromising – our first requirement is to protect innocent unborn children by not only restricting abortion and providing support for women in crisis pregnancies, but also by bringing an end to abortion. Anyone reasoning otherwise must sincerely examine where their error stems from and seek to correct it.
To help Wallis and others like him who have fallen into confusion and have become desensitized to the evil of abortion (this is all of us in some way), I encourage reflection on the recent and poignant words of the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus Carl Anderson, a man who is strongly representative of putting truth and faith above political allegiance: “Carl Anderson to Voters: ‘Stop Creating Excuses for Voting for Pro-Abortion Politicians’”
Second Point – Deacon Weigel concludes in his article that the way we should examine our consciences on the sin of racism is to include asking ourselves if “we permit talk from our family or co-workers about building walls” or “banning Muslims.”
In the context of current events and the political nature of Weigel’s article, I infer that he is referring to Presidential candidate Trump’s position on building a wall on the southern U.S. border and his position on increasing the standards for the admission of refugees. To see these positions and all who take them as racist seems to reveal more about Weigel than it does about how we should be examining our consciences.
There is nothing inherently sinful or wrong in a nation’s right to defend its borders and there is no Catholic teaching to support this view. In fact, building a physical wall or increasing standards of admission can even be reasonably argued as a great good. This is a debate that falls into the area of prudential judgment, not a point from which to label others as racists.
In conclusion, while it is always a challenge to sincerely seek truth above one’s own political allegiances and biases, it is especially challenging in the final months and weeks of a Presidential election year when heated rhetoric is rife on all sides. As Catholics, we are blessed to have the wisdom of Jesus and His Catholic Church to form us, guide us, and keep us sane. The question becomes: will we choose to allow that wisdom to break through all the ideological noise or will we allow the noise to form and guide us?
May we all remember and reflect upon the words of Pope Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est (1): “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction…Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere ‘command’; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.”