Thursday, November 5, 2009

11-08-2009: 32nd Ordinary Time (B)

Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kings 17:10-16/Psalm 146/Hebrews 9:24-28/Mark 12:38-44

As of this writing, Election Day ’09 has just come to a close and, no doubt, both winners and losers are loosening their collars and putting up their feet. So is Sacred Heart’s rectory staff after two days of constant calls with questions and complaints – mostly complaints. That’s because my Pastoral Reflections of November 1st concerning the religious beliefs of the Republican candidate was copied by the Democrat candidate and sent by his campaign to registered voters in District 19 (it appeared, however, to have been sent by Sacred Heart – which was not the case). In addition to publishing these Reflections in our Parish Bulletin, I also post them on a blog site ( with other pieces and presentations I’ve written over the course of a number of years. I have always considered my writing, once posted or published, as part of the public domain, so to speak, and have never copyrighted nor restricted its further publication. Thus ensued the distribution of last week’s Reflections to a lot more people than usual. The onslaught of calls which, if we had taken a tally, were probably 9 to 1 in favor of the Republican candidate, suggested that the Democrat Party’s strategy may have indeed backfired.

Permit me to take this opportunity to congratulate Mr. Halloran on his victory and to let you know that Mr. Halloran had called me the day before Election Day to express his concern about my views regarding his religious adherence but, nonetheless, state his intention to serve the best interests of all members of his district if elected. Not knowing what the outcome would have been on the Monday before Election Day, and perhaps concerned about the effect of my Reflections on his prospects for victory, I was humbled by Mr. Halloran’s especially gracious words and manner. I believe him to be most sincere in his stated desire to serve the best interests of his district and all here in our parish -- despite the published misgivings of your pastor.

There remains, though, a broader question which many of the (more angry) callers expressed in one way or other: namely, the relationship of religion to politics and the perceived parameters within which clergy are allowed to maneuver. The underlying assumption seems to be that religion is a private affair and should not crossover into the public forum. The clergy’s right to a private opinion is one thing; their public expression of it, another. The exception being Afro-American clergy who can endorse candidates seemingly willy-nilly, invite them to speak in their churches, instruct parishioners how to vote, and do it all for the television cameras. Yet, no one even blinks an eye: it’s the accepted exception. Perhaps it has do with the way in which the black churches emerged from slavery, embracing the “Social Gospel” with its inextricable link to the public square; all the while unconcerned about the separation clause, since poor churches had little to lose if their tax exempt status were revoked. Truth speaks to power best, it seems, when there’s no vested interest.

I see the wisdom of caution, though, regarding the application of overt religious intentions spilling into politics. The separation clause, after all, was intended to protect the church more than the state – religious institutions should be grateful for its existence and keen for its longevity. Yet the issue of the relationship of religion to the public square remains. And it remains, I believe, because religion itself is a component of human experience that is not reducible to any other category: like culture, race, language and ethnicity, religion cannot be compartmentalized either. At least not in a healthy way, as if it were simply a phenomenon of party affiliation or membership in this club and not that one. But religion is also a complicated phenomenon precisely because it carries with it aspects of culture, language, race and ethnicity. Discussion of its applicability to the public forum would be an immense undertaking. And so, it’s easier to compartmentalize: politics here, religion there – and never the ‘twain shall meet. Except, of course, when both merge into one and politics – more precisely, party membership - becomes a religion in itself. Then when someone challenges your candidate, the angry response takes on the flavor of a holy jihad. Grandma’s admonition about not bringing up politics or religion in polite conversation reflects a wisdom no doubt born of repeated, and unpleasant, experience.

Politics, as they say, makes for strange bedfellows. Whether Mr. Halloran’s gracious phone call the other day was born of that political pragmatism or his religious convictions or a combination of both, I do not know. Winners are often routinely gracious: it’s good to know someone can be that gracious – even before he knew how the game would end.

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