Some of you may recall Bishop Daniel Jenky, head of a Catholic diocese in Illinois, who during Mass last April likened President Obama and Senate Democrats to Hitler and Stalin. He also asked God to “have mercy especially on the souls of those politicians who pretend to be Catholic in church, but in their public lives, rather like Judas Iscariot, betray Jesus Christ.”
Now, on the eve of the election, Jenky has sent a message to every priest in his diocese, telling them that “By virtue of your vow of obedience to me as your bishop, I require that this letter be personally read by each celebrating priest at each Weekend Mass, November 3/4.”
The mandatory letter states:
Dear Catholic Believers,
Since the foundation of the American Republic and the adoption of the Bill of Rights, I do not think there has ever been a time more threatening to our religious liberty than the present. Neither the president of the United States nor the current majority of the Federal Senate have been willing to even consider the Catholic community’s grave objections to those HHS mandates that would require all Catholic institutions, exempting only our church buildings, to fund abortion, sterilization, and artificial contraception.
This assault upon our religious freedom is simply without precedent in the American political and legal system. Contrary to the guarantees embedded in the First Amendment, the HHS mandates attempt to now narrowly define and thereby drastically limit our traditional religious works. They grossly and intentionally intrude upon the deeply held moral convictions that have always guided our Catholic schools, hospitals, and other apostolic ministries.
Nearly two thousand years ago, after our Savior had been bound, beaten, scourged, mocked, and crowned with thorns, a pagan Roman procurator displayed Jesus to a hostile crowd by sarcastically declaring: ‘Behold your King.’ The mob roared back: We have no king but Caesar. Today, Catholic politicians, bureaucrats, and their electoral supporters who callously enable the destruction of innocent human life in the womb also thereby reject Jesus as their Lord. They are objectively guilty of grave sin.
For those who hope for salvation, no political loyalty can ever take precedence over loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ and to his Gospel of Life. God is not mocked, and as the Bible clearly teaches, after this passing instant of life on earth, God’s great mercy in time will give way to God’s perfect judgment in eternity.
I therefore call upon every practicing Catholic in this Diocese to vote. Be faithful to Christ and to your Catholic Faith. May God guide and protect his Holy Church, and may God bless America.
It is important to note that Jenky’s description is wrong or incomplete on several points. The health-insurance coverage requirement does not apply to churches or church employees involved in its religious mission. It applies only to any secular operation by the church, such as hospitals and universities, just as it would apply to any other business.
More importantly, the policy does not require coverage of abortion. It does require that policies include contraception methods that block implantation of a fertilized egg in the womb, which the church considers abortion.
Jenky is not alone in such statements. Nicholas DiMarzio, a Catholic bishop in New York, expressed similar sentiments last week, warning parishioners that “It is inconceivable to me how Catholics could support such policies. Indeed, Roman Catholics who support abortion rights and vote for a candidate because of those policies, place him/herself outside of the life of the church. In so doing, they also place themselves in moral danger.”
“Is it possible to vote for somebody despite their support for these policies?” DiMarzio asks. “To my mind, it stretches the imagination, especially when there is another option.”
Nor are such statements confined to the Catholic leadership. For example, the Rev. Randy Mickler, head pastor of Mount Bethel United Methodist Church in Marietta, touched on multiple political topics in his Oct. 21 sermon:
In his message, Mickler tells his congregation (9:20 in the posted video) directly accuses President Obama of showing “great hostility toward Christianity, and at times an encouragement toward Islam,” rattling off a long list of alleged such actions, many if not most factually questionable.
For example, Mickler claimed that in June of 2012, the Obama administration banned the use of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps emblems on Bibles to be distributed by the government to our troops. He did not mention that it did so under threat of a lawsuit by a group making the reasonable point that imprinting U.S. government symbols on Bibles could be interpreted as government approval. The Bibles are still being distributed, just as they always have been, but absent the military emblems.
‘I’m not telling you whom to vote for,” Mickler says. “I don’t think God cares who wins this election as much as he cares about how we reflect Christian integrity in a voting booth. It is ridiculous to think that we can divorce our faith from our actions and say, this is secular and this is sacred.”
He also tells the congregation that they face a quandary. “I’m not telling you to vote for the Mormon,” he says. “The Mormon is not a Christian. According to the National Council of Churches, that is a sect, not a religion.”
Technically, federal law still prohibits churches and other groups that enjoy tax-free nonprofit status from engaging in partisan politics. In practice, though, that law is seldom if ever enforced because the political cost of doing so would be prohibitive. And while I don’t have a major problem with that turn of events and accept it as inevitable, I think violating federal law was always one of the more minor risks that religious leaders take when they so flagrantly entangle their churches with the sordid world of partisan politics.
Once you step into that political world, the rules change significantly, and I’m not talking federal or state law.
UPDATE: I put this in comments below, but I’ll add it here as well:
It’s perfectly legitimate to question the mixing of politics and religion in the black church, although I think you also have to acknowledge how the tradition arose. For a long long time, going well back into slavery, the church was the only black institution through which the black political voice could be expressed, and black church leaders the only representatives that the white establishment respected. Separating church and state was not an option to a community allowed only a religious voice.
That said, it is impossible as a legal and practical matter — and as a matter of fairness — to allow that to continue in black churches while trying to enforce the pulpit/politics ban in other institutions. That’s in part why I wrote above that the ban is basically a dead letter from here on out.
– Jay Bookman