Religion Is Politics

Oscar RomeroAccording to the Catholic Herald, Archbishop Óscar Romero Was a Martyr, Declare Vatican Theologians. It’s about time. The man was murdered while serving Mass 35 years ago. But for the last 20 years, the Catholic Church has been dithering. Finally, they decided that he was murdered “in hatred of the faith” and not because of his political stances. It seems pretty clear to me that the only reason this issue has moved along is that the Catholic Church has its first liberal pope in fifty years. (Or forty years if I’m being liberal.)

It’s all nonsense, of course. Romero was most definitely assassinated because of his political views. And he’s been “hung up in committee” for two decades because of his political views. The idea that religion is not political is a joke. Certainly, there are theologians who work with ontology and other purely theoretical topics. But mostly what churches do is political. And they are right in the thick of it. “Blessed are the meek” (Matthew 5:5) is a political statement. “Turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) is a political statement. And the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) is a political statement. Yes, those are all from the Sermon on the Mount. It is the best thing in the Bible and it is entirely political.

I don’t mind that the Catholic Church feels it must play this semantic game. We should all be allowed our delusions. But it doesn’t mean the rest of us should follow along. The whole thing reveals an important rift not only in the Catholic Church but in religion generally. As social organizations, churches cannot help but be political. But the more a church claims to be purely religious, the more overtly, and vilely, it seems to be political. I think it isn’t at all surprising that whenever I talk to a member of the explicitly non-political Jehovah’s Witnesses, she usually spouts some of the most careless Fox News inspired conservatism imaginable.

And this is what we see from the absolute focus of Evangelicals on abortion and homosexuality. Homosexuality is a bit of a stretch, but at least it is in the Old Testament. But abortion really is the “72 virgins” of Christianity. It isn’t in the Bible. It is just something that Catholic scholars worked out over hundreds of years. Certainly in the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas didn’t believe that “life begins at conception” or that every sperm is sacred. And it wasn’t these finely argued considerations that ended evangelicals antipathy for the issue in the 1970s. It was their concern that they would be forced to accept African Americans into their religious schools. But if you ask them about abortion, they will tell you that it is all about God’s law.

Similarly, last week, Archbishop Thomas Wenski sent out a memo to his employees telling them if they made public statements in favor of same sex marriage, they risked being fired. Do you feel that Christian love?! I am very curious how this is in the least bit theological. The archbishop, after all, is not saying that employees shouldn’t advocate for the Catholic Church doing same sex marriages. This is strictly a secular matter: what the government will allow, not what the Church must do.

So if some same sex marriage advocate went crazy and killed Archbishop Wenski, it would clearly be a political act. But the Catholic Church would also be right that he was killed for his faith. Because the two are the same thing. But I’ll bet you this: it wouldn’t take the Vatican 35 years to say that he was a martyr.

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