The Role of the Church in US Society & Politics

I love it when a conversation pushes me to clarify my thoughts at a fundamental level of my belief system. This started as a back & forth facebook rant over a current event in politics (Catholic responses to how the Affordable Care Act will affect them) between myself and a seminary student whom I’ve know for most of his life.

For the most part, I think the Catholic responses are based on perceptions rather than realities. Here’s the White House response:

Anyhow, during the rant portion, I came up with what I think is a pretty good chunk of ideology:
– In my opinion, true faith leads us to take action that renders political & denominational affiliations subordinate to God’s will.
– If [members of any belief system] choose to be a victim of any political system, they have allowed their philosophy of beliefs (which all theologies are a subset of) to actually be secondary to some circumstance of convenience.

Here’s my latest correspondence. I’ve changed some of the wording to make it more applicable to belief system in general, but there were examples using specific belief systems that I’ve left intact. This is all just my opinion, based on my personal experiences & thoughts, so I certainly don’t mean to offend anyone. But I do invite dialog regarding these issues. I find it all very thought provoking and engaging.

Dear Chris,
Please do me the favor of spending some time in reflection & prayer before replying. I think we both got pretty reactionary & defensive yesterday. I read your last replies last night, but slept on it & spent some time in reflection & prayer before replying which I hope will help with the depth of this conversation. Again, I love you & I have PROFOUND respect & admiration for your dedication to our Lord & His work. I wish more people would take their faith so seriously.

I’m going to reply specifically to the “two different levels” that you feel I am “failing to recognize”.
Also – I think when you say that I’m “failing to recognize” that we need to acknowledge that there are definitions that you may accept as unquestionable that we have a difference of opinion about.

“Truth of our faith” is such a subjective phrase that it is almost meaningless.
All [Christians] don’t believe the same “truth[s]” while people of even non-Christian belief systems may share some common ideologies with [Christians].
You could more correctly use the term “doctrine” which, by definition, creates context.
All members of the [any Christian denomination] (as are members of any defined organization) are bound by its doctrines, regardless of whether they actually believe them to be “truth”. Individuals can be removed from membership if push comes to shove. Since religious organizations tend to operate with a certain amount of latitude (or “grace” in spiritual terms) & since they pragmatically require money to operate, few people are actually held to rigorous standards of belief (or rather adherence to doctrine) as long as nobody makes a big fuss & enough money keeps coming in. Those appointed within the organization (whether they are officers, pastors, priests, etc) are generally held more accountable to those doctrines when it suits the purposes of the organization. It doesn’t actually matter whether those appointed actually believe those doctrines to be “truth” as long as they give any necessary appearance of adhering to those doctrines.
You, for example, certainly give the appearance of adherence to Catholic doctrine (which, as a young seminarian, should be expected). Whether you actually believe all those doctrines to be actual “truth” (& I do not doubt your sincerity) is a matter that only you can answer. Ironically, your beliefs are true for you whether or not there is any actual “truth” to them. So anyone can believe in God (or gods, or unicorns) whether or not they actually exist. That’s where the “faith” part come in.

“Freedom of religion” is also a subjective phrase.
People tend to use it when they want some exception to the law to be extended to them. What American traditionalists typically mean by “freedom of religion” is any Judeo-Christian denomination that isn’t too weird (Mormons, 7th Day Adventists, etc. exist just inside the bubble of this tolerance). Non-Christian belief systems are only tolerated when they don’t interfere with the political power that some particular Judeo-Christian denomination has built up for itself (Muslims exist sometimes within, sometimes outside of the edge of tolerance depending upon the particular area of the US & the current political climate).

So to bring this back to the actual issue we are discussing using the 1st question you messaged me with –
“So how do you suggest the Church respond?”
Keep following Christ, but quit drawing lines.

[All Christian denominations] should drop the self-centered & self-serving language of being a victim deserving of special political treatment as a group & focus on making a positive difference in the lives of more individuals. (While Christ did send His disciples out to continue the work of The Gospel, He didn’t define any such political system such as the [any Christian denomination])

In the free marketplace of US society & politics, a specific Catholic point of view has little relevance as it is. It is already in the minority (supported by other belief-based organizations only when it is somehow advantageous to them as well). No one outside the Catholic Church recognizes the authority of the Pope’s (supposed) direct line of connection to the will of God. Not only do all non-Catholics, by definition, not recognize that authority, but it is doubtful that all members of the Catholic Church actually believe that authority to be true. So the reality of the situation is that the Catholic Church, which is already a minority, has only a partially committed membership in the US that believes that the highest actual authority in their life is the hierarchy of Priest-Bishop-ArchBishop-Pope-God.
Depending upon each individual and the experiences that led to their particular belief system, the highest ideological authority in their life is some order of logic that may or may not include a deity of their acceptance.

I found being raised in the community of faith of St. John Catholic Church within the Czech community of my family in the small town of Ennis, TX during the 1970’s & 80’s to be simple, shallow, & inauthentic as far as I was concerned (there are plenty of people that emerged differently from that same set of circumstances so I must acknowledge the limitations of my own experience). Any denomination (or belief system for that matter) is merely a pane of stained glass through which some of the true light of the same God which we all see may be glimpsed. We are all imperfect vessels for the likeness of God from which we are all created, which includes you, me, the Pope, & atheists. We are all flawed and we are all brothers & sisters in Christ whether we acknowledge our limitations & connection or not. When we draw any kind of line that separates us from anyone else, we turn our backs on The Gospel.

Keep following Christ, but quit drawing lines.

In Christ,

So if this resonates with you on some level, share your thoughts. I think open dialog about belief systems can be some of the most freeing things we can do. Understanding & growth occurs. “Iron sharpens iron.”


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What’s this then?

I've had a strange relationship with faith for as long as I can remember. My journey has gone from doing what I was told, to questioning, to doubting, to abandon, to wonder, to play along, to work against, to open up, to change, to embrace, to wonder, to doubt, to work towards, and to keep searching for better answers. Our various understandings of faith are deeply personal. Sharing those understandings can be very helpful to ourselves as well as others.

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