Archbishop Raymond Burke is not the type of man you would label as a conciliator. Since he came to St. Louis a few years ago, he has inflamed via his vocal opposition of politicians who support abortion, his suppression of a parish that ignored his orders and now his resignation from a charity board after it brought Sheryl Crow, a supporter of embryonic stem cell research, to play at a benefit concert. The common wisdom says he must be wrong, but is he really?
With the whole emphasis that now plagues society that suggests there is not only freedom of religion – a very respectable thing – but also utter separation between faith and politics, Burke seems to be a rabble-rouser. Why won’t he just stick to his duty to pastor his flock and leave the politics out of it? Surely he could lead more people to the Catholic Church if he would just leave well enough alone, right? Surely, instead of worrying about being consistent and following his conscience, he should worry about being “affirming,” right?
The point follows a line of thinking that is not as unbiased as one might think: it assumes the church’s position on how we should live has nothing to do with the way citizens actually should be beseeched to act. But that is clearly absurd – no one can take on a bi-polar view of faith and life such as what these critics propose without being intellectually dishonest. If I affirm the truth of my faith on Sunday, how can I then go and vote against what that faith says on Tuesday or provide a platform to someone who suggests that I should do that?
The critics are right to the extent that they say partisan politics should not become part of the pastoral message of the church. The message of the church is the Gospel, and no one should ever be made to believe that becoming a Christian requires becoming Republican. Or Democratic. Or anything else to do with the world and its power. But, Burke – and the Catholic Church in general – are careful not to affiliate with a particular American political party. Instead, in the moves Burke has made, he has instructed his flock as to what they should do if they actually believe in the Catholic faith, regardless of which side of the aisle will applaud his messages. Catholics – and Christians in general – should not support embryonic stem cell research because regardless of the end, the means of killing innocent life is unacceptable. I am not Catholic, but I respect Archbishop Burke for standing firm in his convictions.
In the argument this week, Burke resigned from a St. Louis Catholic children’s charity because the charity had Sheryl Crow come in to perform. Crow has been a vocal embryonic stem cell research proponent and appeared in numerous ads last fall that helped pass the Missouri stem cell amendment that enshrined protection for that research. Yes, Crow could bring in a lot of money for the charity, and so practically, Burke could hurt “the children” by taking issue with Crow. But, the Christian faith is not built on practical, utilitarian benefits. If Burke applied a utilitarian scale to determine that Crow should be given a platform at a Catholic event – hence giving an air of legitimacy to that platform – is that not a step toward the utilitarian argument for the destruction of embryos that the larger debate is concerned with?
Some attacked Burke for his lack of pastoral concern – would a gentler approach have served to draw Crow into the arms of the church? To be sure, Burke must walk a fine line. The church should never present itself as something that is primarily a rule making body or political lobbying group instead of the visible agency of God’s grace. But, at the same time, that does not mean that it must or should legitimize and participate in the promotion of things contrary to its beliefs. The message to Crow should be, “Like all children of God you are welcome to join in fellowship with us, but while you are promoting things against the teachings of the church, we cannot give you an official soapbox that could cause others to stumble.”
Like it or not, politics are part of our lives, and anything that is a part of our lives should be thoughtfully influenced by our faith. The Catholic Church is trying to thoughtfully encourage its members to live and vote their beliefs, and that sometimes leads to unpopular decisions. But in the midst of the uproar over Burke’s “intolerance,” the point has been missed that he has taken the high road of trying to insist that the faithful should be, well, faithful to their beliefs, rather than trying to promote politics for the sake of power. Instead of condemning those who promote ideals rather than political parties, should we disagree with them, we should instead applaud them for promoting policies of good conscience while avoiding simplistic partisan endorsement.
Timothy R. Butler is editor-in-chief of Open for Business.
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