In today’s ideologically charged and politically polarized society terms like GOP Catholics, conservative Catholics, Catholic Democrats, and liberal Catholics are getting thrown around way too much. It’s enough to make one sick.
Quite frankly these terms bring a knot to my stomach. That’s followed by a bad taste in my mouth. It makes me think that I just digested something old and rancid. I worry that I’m going to end up in heaving convulsions hunched over a toilet. Oh, if only vomiting could get rid of the political madness that’s spread to the Church like a cancerous cell.
No matter what side of the political aisle you stand on, it’s pretty hard to deny that our country, and the rest of the world as well, is more polarized than ever based on political beliefs. Perhaps it’s the media making it so. Or maybe it’s the technology that is making information, opinions, and news more ubiquitous than ever. Or maybe it’s our educational system. Whatever the cause, it seems as if our whole world today is revolving around political ideologies and affiliations. Today, what is “right” seems to depend on whether one is on the right or the left.
This has not always been the case. There was time when people supported the policy or candidate that was most in line with what was most important in their lives – their faith. U.S. Catholics, in particular, tended to identify more as Catholics first and foremost, as Americans second, and by political affiliation third.
Political Views Coloring Faith
This is clearly no longer the case – and unfortunately so. This week, the Pew Research Center published findings that are pretty dismal for U.S. Catholics. They lead to one premonitory conclusion: the Church in America is in danger of becoming political organization. The new poll highlights that for the first time ever American Catholics’ opinions on our Holy Father are seemingly becoming aligned with political beliefs and affiliation.
According to Greg Smith, a Pew senior researcher quoted in a Catholic News Service (CNS) article, “What’s interesting about this survey [is] that this is the first one where this political polarization among American Catholics really stands out.”
Over half of American Catholics who identify or lean Republican view Pope Francis as being too liberal. But only 19% of Catholics who identify as Democrats agree with the statement. Moreover, 32% of Catholics who identify as Republicans believe that Pope Francis is too naive about the world. But only 18% of Catholics who identify as Democrats believe this is so.
According to Pew, in 2014 “there was no discernible difference” between Republicans and Democrats when it came to views on Pope Francis. What a quick turn this took from just four short years prior. Clearly, the political polarization in our country is more apparent and infectious than ever before.
There are two possible conclusions from such a statistic:
- American Catholics are now placing politics over faith more than ever.
- American Catholics, from the clergy down to laypeople, are placing political agendas and social activism over the Church’s sole mission on Earth.
These outcomes may not be ‘either-or’ possibilities, but rather both at the same time. This is an even more horrifying and saddening revelation.
Political Activism Has No Place in the Church
Many Catholics may make the case that the Church has the responsibility of ensuring just legislation, which may at times cross over to political and social activism. However, this is a misnomer.
The Church is not a political or government organization tasked with the protection of the innocence. She is not a champion of the downtrodden, disenfranchised, victims of discrimination and unjust policies. Hers is not a mission based on the activism of political agendas – be they conservative or liberal. Her mission, as explained in Catechism of the Catholic Church #765-768, is to share in Christ’s mission and His power: To bring all men to salvation.
This mission is also stated in Lumen Gentium #5: “From this source [Christ] the Church, equipped with the gifts of its Founder and faithfully guarding His precepts of charity, humility and self-sacrifice, receives the mission to proclaim and to spread among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God and to be, on earth, the initial budding forth of that kingdom. While it slowly grows, the Church strains toward the completed Kingdom and, with all its strength, hopes and desires to be united in glory with its King.”
Of course, by carrying out the Church’s mission, we as Catholics inevitably take up the just causes of the downtrodden. We strive to ensure the protection of the weakest among us. However, it seems as if we have forgotten the origination and motivation of this “agenda” (if one can even call it an agenda).
By placing political affiliations and ideologies over the mission of the Church we place the temporal over the eternal. Even worse, we begin to support legislative action for the sake of political advancement instead of for the sake of the human soul. To support “just legislation” for justice’s sake, as defined by man, is to place the definition of justice in the hands of men. Justice for justice’s sake devoid of Christ and Truth ignores actual personhood and places the human person at the mercy of ideas created by men.
When we support a candidate based on which party the candidate belongs to we place our hope of being saved in men and not in God. If we choose to view the world – and, most disheartening, the Church – through a political lens, we begin to interject our own ideas and agendas into carrying out the Church’s mission.
When we begin to call the Holy Father a champion of the Left, as some are doing with Pope Francis, or a champion of the Right, as was done with St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, we lower the eternal mission of the Church to an earthly and temporal mission that could just as easily change with the tides of time.
Through The Eyes of Christ
Our politics should not be running our Faith. We are called to view the world through Christ-like eyes, with our hearts and minds ever turned towards Heaven. We are called to look on the world as Catholics, not conservatives or liberals. Our political beliefs should have no room in our lives if we are truly centering our lives on Christ. Our Faith, the Church’s Teachings, cannot be boiled down to or categorized according to political labels. Christ’s Teachings are neither liberal nor conservative, Republican or Democrat. Jesus is neither a social justice warrior nor a champion of individualism.
Jesus Christ is the Son of God. His mission, actions, and teachings rise above and beyond earthly politics. To give glory and praise to God, to spread His Kingdom on Earth, so that all nations will call Him blessed – this is the eternal mission of Christ and the Church. By looking at the world through political and social activism lenses we are instead placing politics, the government, and nations above the Kingdom of God. Is this the kind of world we want to create?
Next time you catch yourself saying, thinking, or referring to Our Holy Father – current or otherwise – or any Church Teaching for that matter – as being conservative or liberal, stop and ask yourself, “Am I viewing the world through Catholic eyes or political eyes?” Lest we forget, political labels and ideologies change with the times, but the Church and the Truth are Eternal.