Putting too much faith in left-wing causes

The Earth stopped for just a few seconds in October, so that we all could gaze upon St. Bridget Church in Manchester, Connecticut. A political controversy involving the church lasted about 15 seconds, but had much to teach us about God and man and politics.

A newspaper ad extolling the virtues of local-yokel Democratic candidates in Manchester noted that the Dems "worked with St. Bridget's Church and labor unions to pass the living wage ordinance showing our support for working people."

No, no, no, explained the priest at St. Bridget, we don't endorse or support candidates of any particular political persuasion.

Enough said. The Democrats apologized profusely, muttering under their breath that St. Bridget is chock-a-block full of union activists who did, in fact, campaign for Democrats and the dumb living-wage ordinance. Left unsaid was that the political advertisement expressed the modern reality that churches and religious denominations and sundry "faith-based" groups have become eager political operatives, putting aside the God-stuff in favor of sponsoring seminars on the earned-income tax credit.

Many of the mainstream Protestant faiths have been led astray by denominational staff that has grown bored with transcendence and prefers to probe the mysteries of air pollution and property tax reform. Even some of the more praise-the-Lord evangelical types have begun to scratch the itch to become "environmentalists." Which coal-scrubbing technology would Jesus recommend? Apparently, you don't learn that in chemical engineering class; you learn it at seminary.

In these here parts, the Greater Hartford Coalition for Equity and Justice, for instance, is a church-fueled advocacy group indistinguishable from the lefty fringes of the Democratic Party and irrelevant labor unions. In a sermon in 2003 at the Washington National Cathedral, the executive director of the Christian Conference of Connecticut used the occasion to spew anti-Bush rhetoric that even many Democrats found embarrassing.

For perspective on political discomfort, the St. Bridget folks can recollect the rambunctious political career of the Rev. Robert Drinan, a Jesuit who wandered off to politics in the 1970s, winning election as a U.S. representative in Massachusetts, before Pope John Paul II got cranky and told him to find a new vocation.

As late as the 1970s, the state of Tennessee was still fighting off legal challenges to its 18th-century ban on clergymen in the state legislature - a statute finally put out of its misery by the U.S. Supreme Court. The American people have an ambiguous, uncomfortable attitude toward denominational and clerical dabbling in things political.

As the faith-based amateur politicians meander into the complexity of modern economic and political life, they lose their moral standing and become just another set of braying special interests, with nothing special to offer that can't be found in the average precinct club or labor hall.

When the Catholic bishops issued a naive letter on the U.S. economy in the 1980s, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer captured the sentiment of many: "It is one thing for religious leaders to remind their politicians and parishioners of the prophetic duty to care for the poor. It is another thing when these prophets, armed with the authority of technical experts, produce an outline of exactly how that is to be undertaken in a complex political system."

The National Council of Churches, which over the decades evolved into a left-wing political mess that couldn't find God if he struck them with a lightning bolt, issued a wonderful survey of pastors in four mainstream Protestant denominations in 1977. It grimly reported that only 4 percent of the clergy said the primary aim of church "mission" was to "improve the well-being of people by giving them new and improved methods of agriculture, industry, education and health."

Needless to say, the preachers also indicated that the ultra-lefty national staffs of their denominations were "out of touch" with the majority of the folks in the pews.

By the mid-1980s, the American people were so uncomfortable with the political bent of their faiths that, according to a Gallup Poll in 1986, Americans trusted the military more than their religious leaders. As the president of Gallup explained it, religious leaders "have become controversial and more political - and thus just more noisy, partisan voices.

And that is the lesson of the sensitivity about politics from St. Bridget Church in Manchester. Go in peace.



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