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Terry Mattingly's weekly column on religion and the media.
Updated: 26 min 21 sec ago

Heart of the problem: Why so many men think church is for women (Part II)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Sunday after Sunday, believers stand and sing at the start of worship. Here is the question author Leon Podles wants church leaders to ponder: Which of these two entrance hymns would inspire the most fervor in men?

First, consider these modern lyrics: "I am God of the Earth like a Mother in labor I bring all to birth. With all the Earth we sing your praise! We come to give you thanks, o lover of us all, and giver of our loving. … We are your work of art, the glory of your hand, the children of your loving."

Now for something completely different: "The Son of God goes forth to war, a kingly crown to gain; his blood red banner streams afar: who follows in his train? Who best can drink His cup of woe, triumphant over pain, who patient bears his cross below -- he follows in His train."

Yes, times have changed and the second hymn is rarely heard today. However, Catholic and Protestant churches -- especially in the Western world -- have been struggling with masculinity issues for centuries, noted Podles, in recent lectures at Mount Calvary Catholic Church in Baltimore. In most pews, women now outnumber men by ratios of two or three to one.

"The attitude toward church among the majority of men in Western cultures varies from, 'It's OK for women and children' to general indifference to a hostility that has on occasion led to mass murder," he said, referring to the slaughter of priests and monks during the Spanish Civil War.

"Why are men more distant from Christianity? Men and women are equally fallen, are equally in need of healing grace. Why are men more resistant to the ministrations of the church?"

Speaking to Latin American bishops in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI openly worried that "this kind of distance of indifference by men, which strongly calls into question the style of our conventional ministry, is partly why the separation between faith and culture keeps growing."

When men walk away from the disciplines of faith, Benedict added, they face the "temptation of surrendering to violence, infidelity, abuse of power, drug addiction, alcoholism, male chauvinism, corruption and abandonment of their role as fathers."

In his lectures, Podles -- updating his book "The Church Impotent" -- stressed several ways religious leaders can strive to reach men.

* Music and art matters. Why have so many clergy abandoned strong hymns and embraced the "Jesus is my boyfriend" genre? Meanwhile, sacred art often avoids depicting Jesus as king and judge, while featuring softer, emotional images. In the early 20th Century, the psychologist G. Stanley Hall asked American men to react to popular images of Jesus. Common responses included: "Looks sick, unwashed, sissy, ugly, feeble, posing, needs square meal and exercise."

* Bishops need priests committed to excellence in preaching and liturgy, because, "men are turned off by activities that seem to be inept and just another form of killing time," argued Podles.

* Understand that fathers are crucial to reaching sons. Focusing on fathers "avoids conflicts and jealousy" and shows men that priests assume a father's spiritual leadership is crucial in a Christian family -- as research has consistently shown.

* Don't be afraid when men show strong convictions -- even anger. "Was Jesus being a good Christian when he called the Pharisees a brood of vipers, fit for hell? There are five explicit mentions and at least 25 indirect references in the Gospels to the anger, frustration or indignation of Jesus," said Podles.

* Create ministries that allow men to help protect others and provide meaningful aid. "Men want to serve other people, but they want to do it in guy-like ways," he said. For example, consider allowing men to repair cars for the poor.

The bottom line: Do not fear challenging men to do difficult, even painful, things.

"We tend to gloss over all the mentions of honor and glory in the New Testament, but they really are the goal at which we aim -- to be honored by God, to hear His voice saying, 'Well done, good and faithful servant,' " said Podles. Thus, spiritual leaders must remember that, "men want to be respected, to be assured that they are real men. But the only real validation can come from an infallible judge."

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A problem with deep roots: Why so many men think church is for women (Part I)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

It was conventional wisdom, in the Middle Ages, that women were more pious than men and that women went to Confession and took Communion during great church feasts "while few men do," as a Dominican priest observed.

Austrian theologian Johann B. Hafen saw this trend in 1843: "During the year who surrounds most frequently and willingly the confessional? The wives and maidens! Who kneels most devoutly before our altars? Again, the female sex!"

Early YMCA leaders found that one out of 20 young men claimed church membership and that 75 percent of men "never attend church" at all. A Church News study in 1902 found that, in Manhattan, the ratio of Catholic women to men was 3 to 1.

What about today? To see what is happening in Catholic sanctuaries worshippers just have look around.

"You may have noticed that in many Catholic churches everyone in the sanctuary except the priest is female and sometimes the masculinity of the priest is doubtful. I remember a 50-year-old priest with a page-boy haircut," observed author Leon J. Podles, speaking at Mount Calvary Catholic Church in downtown Baltimore.

"Most Catholic pastoral ministers in this country and elsewhere are female, so often there is not a male in sight during Communion services. ... There have been recent changes in some countries in the ratio of women to men in the church, but it has not been a result of more men, but fewer women attending."

The three-lecture series by Podles, a former federal investigator with a doctorate in English, served as an update on his controversial 1999 book "The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity." His remarks ranged from medieval theology to the "Jesus is my boyfriend" school of contemporary Christian music.

Some religious traditions do not fit this pattern, such as Islam, some forms of Orthodox Judaism and Orthodox Christianity and other churches in the East. Podles said Western church leaders -- Catholic and Protestant -- urgently need to back research into why this is the case.

During his lecture on the history of this issue, Podles kept returning to two themes. First, in the Christian West faith increasingly focused on emotions and feelings, as opposed to action, service and sacrifice. Then this approach soaked into worship and sacred art.

"My theory is: men distance themselves from church because they think church, and maybe Christianity in general, is feminine, and they want to be masculine and don't want to be feminine," he said.

Throughout history, men have been willing to make great sacrifices to defend the faith and spread the faith. The list of laymen recognized as martyrs and saints was long, Podles explained -- until the late Middle Ages.

What men have never been willing to do, he noted, in a follow-up interview, is meekly follow leaders they do not believe are strong and inspiring.

"The idea got around" in the medieval church, he said, "that women were supposed to be docile and obedient and willing to do whatever they were told to do by priests. Then the idea got around that being a good Christian -- period -- meant that you needed to be docile and obedient. ... Then these two ideas became intertwined."

This eventually affected hymns, theology, art and literature. The bottom line: It's hard for priests to tell young men -- take lacrosse players at Catholic schools, for example -- that they must become "brides of Christ" to find salvation.

"Only if men become like women can they become Christian. That is the message that was long given to men," he said. Meanwhile, "masculinity values risk-taking; religion is for those seeking security. Masculinity is tough-minded; religion is for those seeking comfort. Masculinity accepts reality; religion is a fantasy. Masculinity is independent; religion demands obedience."

These mixed theological signals have made many men uncomfortable.

Consider, for example, this prose by English Puritan leader John Winthrop, in which he tells Jesus: "O my Lord, my love, how wholly delectable are thou! Lett him kisse me with the kisses of his mouthe, for his love is sweeter than wine: how lovely is thy countenance! How pleasant are thy embracings."

Podles was blunt: "One does not have to have read Freud to find such language suspicious. Many men have found it objectionable. But some women still respond to it and make dates with Jesus."

NEXT WEEK: Parish strategies to appeal to men.

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Seeking Christian solidarity in, for starters, a few American voting booths

Monday, October 10, 2016

Michael Maturen is a Catholic writer, a businessman, a grassroots political activist, a former evangelical Anglican priest and a professional magician.

Seeking the presidency of the United States may not have been the next logical move for this self-proclaimed "nobody" from the tiny town of Harrisville, on Lake Huron in Northeast Michigan.

"I'm a magician, I sell cars and I'm running for president," said Maturen, laughing. "I am not delusional. People in the American Solidarity Party don't think we can win the presidency. Our goal is to promote the ideas behind our party and the idea that it's time to change our political system. … Two parties are not enough when you look at the reality of modern America."

This would have been more obvious if the party's founders had kept its original name, as in the Christian Democracy Party-USA. That would have linked it to major political parties -- primarily in Europe and Latin America -- with the "Christian Democrat" label.

Maturen said the name was changed because, while the party is built on Catholic social teachings, America has become such a diverse culture. The new name does offer a nod to Saint Pope John Paul II and Poland's Solidarity movement.

"Lot's of people are pretty disgusted with where we are in America," said Maturen. "What changed my own thinking was the ugliness of this election cycle. As a simple matter of ethics, I knew that I couldn't support Donald Trump and, since I am pro-life, I knew I couldn't vote for Hillary Clinton."

The American Solidarity Party is just getting started, of course, with chapters in two-dozen states and new members clicking into the ranks through social media. Maturen and his running mate, Juan Munoz of Texas, are on the 2016 ballot in Colorado, while working to clear legal hurdles in Louisiana and Florida.

At this stage, the goal is to arrange authorized write-in status in 30 or more states, he said. At some point, candidates from alternative parties will have to crack into the U.S. House of Representatives. As for the White House, an alternative candidate will eventually need to win enough votes to complicate the "winner take all" structure of the electoral college.

While seeking a "centrist" label, Maturen stressed that the party's platform is consistently progressive on matters of economics -- supporting single-payer national health care, for example -- and conservative on morality and culture. It defends human life from conception to natural death, thus opposing abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide and the death penalty. It condemns all forms of torture.

The platform also states: "We deplore the reduction of the 'free exercise of religion' guaranteed by the First Amendment to 'freedom of worship' that merely exists in private and within a house of worship. … We will defend the rights of public assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. We oppose the expansion of censorship and secrecy in the interests of 'national security.' "

Obviously, there are hard questions linked to this kind of project, noted philosopher David McPherson of Creighton University, writing in the interfaith journal First Things. For starters, many Americans don't want to vote for a party that cannot win. But in the year of #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary, there are voters -- especially Catholics, Mormons and evangelicals -- seeking ways to vote without pangs of guilt.

"Voting for the ASP may be seen as a protest vote against a system that presents us with such poor choices. But it is not merely a protest vote, because if we are to work fully toward the kind of politics we need, we must first break from the political status quo," argued McPherson. "The ASP should thus be understood as seeking primarily to build up a cultural movement, which ideally will come to have political influence."

Still, Maturen conceded that it's hard to think about the future while this White House race keeps causing bitter debates about religious believers needing to vote for the "lesser of two evils." What about the doomsday scenario in which Trump or Clinton grabs control of the U.S. Supreme Court for years to come?

"As a Catholic, I truly believe that your actions in life are supposed to line up with your beliefs," he said. "At some point we have to try to start voting that way."

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Americans willing to talk about politics, but few anxious to discuss religion

Monday, October 3, 2016

While it's hard to pinpoint the precise moment it happened, it's clear that most American discussions of religious liberty have turned into shouting matches about "religious liberty," a term now commonly framed in "scare quotes."

The recent U.S. Commission on Civil Rights "Peaceful Coexistence" report made this clear, claiming the First Amendment's defense of the free exercise of religion is not as important as some people think. Thus, "civil rights" now trump "religious liberty."

The commission stressed: "Religious exemptions to the protections of civil rights based upon classifications such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity, when they are permissible, significantly infringe upon these civil rights."

In a quote that went viral online, commission chair Martin Castro added: "The phrases 'religious liberty' and 'religious freedom' will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia or any form of intolerance."

This creates a major problem for Americans who are worried about civil public discourse or even the odds of having friendly conversations with friends, family and neighbors, noted Scott McConnell, head of LifeWay Research.

"What did our parents tell us when we were growing up? They warned us not to talk about politics, not to talk about religion and not to talk about sex," he said, reached by telephone.

"Well, it's hard to talk about anything that matters these days -- like religious liberty -- without talking about all three of those things and usually at the same time. ... No wonder people are tense."

Just how tense are Americans, when it comes to talking about religion? According to a new LifeWay survey, conducted during the chaotic presidential primaries in March, six in 10 American adults are more comfortable talking about politics than discussing matters of faith, spirituality and religion.

McConnell said researchers allowed survey participants to use their personal definitions of what is "political" and what is "spiritual."

Thus, from the viewpoint of traditional religious believers, a chat with friends or neighbors about sex and marriage might be seen as a "religious." However, people who consider themselves liberal believers or secular nonbelievers would probably view the same conversation as a potentially hostile debate about politics.

So who does, and who does not, want to talk about faith issues these days? Key findings in the LifeWay survey included:

* About a quarter of the people surveyed said they would prefer to have fewer discussions of spiritual and religious issues. Only one in five said they wanted more.

* To no surprise, evangelicals (32 percent), Americans 55 years old and over (26 percent) and people living in the Bible Belt (24 percent) were the most likely to say they had spiritual conversations "less often than I would like."

* Latinos (38 percent), young adults (35 percent) and people who live in the highly secular West were most likely ­­­(30 percent) to say they were involved in spiritual conversations "more often than I would like."

* Two-thirds of Americans (64 percent) said they had at least three conversations about politics in the previous month, while only 8 percent reported no conversations about politics. Fewer than half (44 percent) had three or more religious or spiritual conversations, while 22 percent said they had zero conversations about spiritual matters.

* Men (69 percent) and non-evangelical Americans (65 percent) said they would rather talk about politics. Meanwhile, evangelicals (63 percent), people who go to church at least once a week (57 percent) and women (51 percent) said they would rather talk about spiritual matters than politics.

A key takeaway is that, for many Americans, religious and spiritual issues have become controversial, painful or worse. Clearly, the rising number of debates about religious freedom and sexual freedom represent the front lines in this culture war over the nation's future.

"We seem to be increasingly divided about the value to religious faith, period," said McConnell. "More and more people seem to be wondering if there is something intrinsically positive and valuable about religious people having these beliefs -- beliefs that mean they cannot accept certain behaviors in their own lives and the lives of others. ...

"An increasing number of Americans are having trouble understanding the idea of religious convictions really mattering at all, in real life."

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Why it can be so hard for modern pastors to keep answering their cellphones

Monday, September 26, 2016

Once upon a time, the average-sized American religious congregation had two telephones that really mattered.

There was the office telephone, answered by a secretary or receptionist during business hours. It was the job of this gatekeeper -- who over time became an expert on life in the flock -- to tell the shepherd which calls were urgent and which could wait.

The other telephone was at the pastor's home. Many people knew that number, but they also knew it was not business as usual to dial it.

"People knew they never should call the pastor's home number unless it was a real emergency," said the Rev. Karl Vaters, of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, Calif. "There was a boundary there and people tried to help protect the pastor's time at home. That boundary was there to help protect his family and his ministry."

These days, both of those telephones, for all practical purposes, have been replaced by cellphones for the pastors and members of small congregations -- usually defined as those with under 200 people attending the main worship service. For most clergy, the cellphones in their pockets are always there, always vibrating to remind them of cares and concerns that rarely, if ever, go away.

It was the one-two punch of cellphones and email that first pulled clergy into the social-media age, followed by digital newsletters, Facebook pages and constantly changing congregational websites. Even in small churches, the work of the "church secretary" has evolved, from answering the office telephone and preparing an ink-on-paper newsletter to serving as an all-purpose online networker.

"The old boundaries are vanishing and, for pastors in some parts of the country, they're almost completely gone," said Vaters, reached by telephone. "That mobile phone is always with you. … Once your church passes 200 members you have to manage things in a different way. You just can't afford to be as accessible to all those church members all of the time."

So what happens today when a member of a congregation rings the pastor's cellphone? Vaters recently addressed that question in a post at Christianity Today's Pivot blog for small-church leaders. The blunt headline: "Why Most Pastors Aren't Answering Your Phone Calls."

For starters, there are too many calls to answer and about half of them are sales calls from businesses, he noted. Church members also tend to forget that many modern pastors no longer have desk telephones because they no longer have traditional offices or staffs. Many clergy -- especially in missions and new church plants -- have other full- or part-time jobs to help them pay the bills.

Meanwhile, some clergy are proactive and use text messages and emails to arrange personal meetings in "third places," such as coffee shops. They try to work calls into their time-management plans, reaching as many people as possible.

"The irony is that those face-to-face meetings are often interrupted by telephone calls," said Vaters. "So what are you supposed to do, take that call when you're actually praying with someone?"

But there are other reasons for pastors not reach for that mobile phone. Some laypeople need to learn that "some things can wait," he said. Then there was this angle in his commentary: "It's not you, it's us (except when it's you)."

Most of the time, pastors are not ignoring calls, "but sometimes we are. Let's face it, some people are a drain on resources," wrote Vaters. "It doesn't mean we don't love and care for them. … This is not a typical reason for a slow response from a pastor. But it can be a valid one."

Then there's one more thing. "Some pastors are lazy and rude," he added. These shepherds need to realize that -- one way or another -- members of their flocks deserve responses when they try to reach them. Even calling back to tell them "no" is better than leaving them feeling ignored.

Church members should know "that he's not ignoring me, he's not being mean to me," said Vaters. "They have to learn that you're trying to set important boundaries. … You're trying to spend less time in some conversations that are really not all that urgent, in order to make room for the calls that really are -- that really matter."

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The gentle, evangelical insider religious satire of The Babylon Bee

Monday, September 19, 2016

Anyone who visits a typical American megachurch worship service will get a quick education on the mechanics of contemporary praise music.

First, the band rocks into action, while swaying worshipers raise their hands high, singing lyrics displayed on giant screens. There may be lasers and smoke. A guitarist or keyboard player guides everyone through worship songs -- loud then soft, softer then louder -- linked by dramatic key changes and musical "bridges." Eventually, there's a sermon or worship video.

What if something goes wrong? This Babylon Bee headline was an online classic: "Worship Leader Caught In Infinite Loop Between Bridge And Chorus."

In this fake "news report," a weeping member of the worship band adds: "It's scary, honestly. … This is our third worship leader who's been sucked into a PCBV (Perpetual Chorus-Bridge Vortex) in the past year."

After the 14th chorus-to-bridge transition, deacons called 911 and the victim was rushed to an emergency room. "Physicians are subjecting him," readers learn, "to a barrage of classic hymns in hopes that he will recover."

This is an inside-baseball brand of satire that allows Babylon Bee creator Adam Ford to gently explore the yins and yangs of evangelical Christianity.

"While we satirize our own camp quite a bit, we don't limit ourselves to evangelicalism. We write about culture, politics, other religions, current events, etc., regularly," said Ford, who does email interviews since he struggles with anxiety attacks. He shares more of his personal story in his own web-comics site.

Most Babylon Bee newcomers, however, are almost certainly be drawn there by social-media references to the site's popular items dissecting modern evangelical life. Take, for example, a "news report" about a new $90 million, 170-acre church complex with a petting zoo, seven bookstores, nine coffee shops, three restaurants, a baseball field and a monorail to the parking lots. But church leaders forgot something. Thus the headline: "Sanctuary Mistakenly Omitted From Megachurch Campus Design."

Ford, who once yearned to be a pastor, stressed that he is trying to be critical and supportive at the same time.

"God can and does use goofy things like lasers and smoke machines to bring people to Christ, sure, but I believe church services that are reminiscent of WWE productions have peaked and will be less and less successful and prevalent moving forward," he said.

The key is that Ford is a modern man who is filling an ancient role, said media scholar Terry Lindvall, of Virginia Wesleyan College.

"The biblical satirist shares in the blame and shame of his defendants. He may be God's prosecutor, but he is also entwined with the people he ridicules," wrote Lindvall, in his book "God Mocks: A History of Religious Satire from the Hebrew Prophets to Stephen Colbert." A skilled satirist, he added, holds up a prophetic mirror that "offers a comic frame in which to look at and to look through the heart; the satirist finds that none are righteous, including himself."

The Bee stings everything from common family life ("Woman Finally Accepts Doctrine Of Total Depravity Now That Daughter Is Two") to lofty academia ("Jesus Was A Socialist Deconstructionist Feminist, Claims Socialist Deconstructionist Feminist Scholar").

However, a headline about President Barack Obama nominating the Canaanite god Moloch to serve on the Supreme Court perfectly illustrates Ford's method, noted Lindvall, reached by telephone. The piece mocks evangelicals who are "totally paranoid" about anything Obama touches, yet also lances the left's ultimate Supreme Court litmus test -- abortion.

Ford, Lindvall added, "is piercing, yet gentle. … It's more of a poke in the ribs, instead of a poke in the eyes."

When seeking biblical inspiration for satire, Lindvall and Ford cited similar examples, such as Jesus asking critics: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" In the Book of Job, God puts Job in his place by asking: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much."

"I'm no prophet," stressed Ford. Instead, his ultimate goal is simply to "glorify God through our work. Under that, I don't like to spell out exactly how and what and why. 'Dissecting the frog' and all that. I like the content to speak for itself."

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Explaining St. Teresa of Kolkata's dark night of the soul -- to children

Monday, September 12, 2016

Like most illustrations in children's books, the image of Mother Teresa is quite simple, showing her kneeling in prayer beside her bed in a dark room, facing a bare cross and a single candle.

The tiny nun's eyes are open and her expression is hard to read. The text on the opposite page is candid.

"Mother Teresa experienced a great sorrow. Ever since she had moved to the slums, she no longer felt the presence of Jesus as she had before. She felt as though abandoned, rejected by him," according to "Mother Teresa: The Smile of Calcutta," a storybook for young children. "In her heart, she felt darkness and emptiness. She experienced the suffering of the poor who did not feel loved. She shared in the loneliness Christ suffered on the Cross."

Only the priests who worked with her knew about this "dark night of the soul," an experience seen in the lives of some other saints.

Working with text by Charlotte Grossetete, originally written in French, Ignatius Press editor Vivian Dudro said she "spent lots of time working on how to phrase that part. … You picture a young child reading about this pain in a saint's life or having this story read to them. How do you explain something like this in a few simple words?"

This dark night is clearly a crucial part of the life of the Albanian nun who was canonized this past weekend as St. Teresa of Kolkata. The formal petition to Pope Francis concluded: "Despite a painful experience of inner darkness, Mother Teresa travelled everywhere, concerned … to spread the love of Jesus throughout the world. She thus became an icon of God's tender and merciful love for all, especially for those who are unloved, unwanted and uncared for."

St. Teresa's sense of spiritual loss was the mirror image of the intense spiritual visions that, in 1946, inspired her to plunge deep into the slums of Calcutta (now called Kolkata) to serve the poorest of the poor. This move eventually led to the founding of the global Missionaries of Charity.

Early in this work, in 1951, her private letters and journals indicate that she prayed to be allowed to experience the isolation and pain Jesus suffered on the cross. Her visions immediately stopped.

"Lord, my God, who am I that you should forsake me? The one -- you have thrown away as unwanted -- unloved," she wrote in 1957. "I call, I cling, I want, and there is no one to answer. … Where I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives."

It will be a challenge to explain this concept to young children, said Father James Martin, the author of "Jesus: A Pilgrimage" and many other popular works of apologetics. He has called Mother Teresa the greatest Catholic saint of modern times because of her faithful service to the poor -- even while experiencing such a profound challenge in her prayer life.

Asked to explain this painful puzzle -- as schoolteachers and priests will do in the years ahead -- he said he would focus on the common experience of prayer.

Martin offered, by email, these thoughts for children: "Do you know how sometimes it's hard to pray? Well, believe it or not, Mother Teresa didn't feel like God was close to her. Even though she knew that God was close she just didn't feel it. She felt very lonely. When she talked to a friend about it, though, he said that even Jesus felt lonely. And poor people feel lonely too. So Mother Teresa started to understand that this was one way she could be closer to Jesus."

This is the key point, stressed Dudro. St. Teresa used her suffering as a motivation to continue serving the poor and abandoned, rather than as an excuse to flee to safety elsewhere.

"She asked for this experience and she got it," said Dudro. "That's a powerful and beautiful thing, but that's also the kind of beauty that strikes a chord of terror in me. But she wanted that sense of communion with her Beloved. …

"So be careful what you pray for. Right? … But whatever happens, be faithful and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep going."

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The Supreme Knight addresses Catholics, voting, abortion and listening to angels

Monday, September 5, 2016

The symbolic fact passed quickly, during a long list of achievements in Carl Anderson's annual report as the leader of the Knights of Columbus.

Weeks earlier, the powerful Catholic fraternal order had donated its 700th ultrasound machine for use in crisis pregnancy centers. This was appropriate news to share during the Toronto convention, which took its biblical theme from Isaiah: "Before birth the Lord called me, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name."

"The Spanish language phrase that means 'to give birth' is 'dar a luz,' words that literally mean 'to give light' to the child," said Anderson, in his Aug. 2 text. "Our ultrasound program gives a light to the mother that enables her to see the reality and often the personality of her child in the womb."

Right now, he added, efforts to oppose abortion are linked to other public debates. For example, there are efforts to support the Little Sisters of the Poor's work with the weak and elderly, as well as their struggles against Health and Human Services mandates they believe attack religious liberty, seeking their cooperation with health-care plans supporting contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion.

This kind of work does require involvement in politics, noted Anderson, who held several posts in the Ronald Reagan administration. However, he noted that Pope Francis said: "Politics, according to the Social Doctrine of the Church, is one of the highest forms of charity, because it serves the common good."

Thus, Anderson issued a familiar challenge to his audience, which included about 100 bishops.

"We need to end the political manipulation of Catholic voters by abortion advocates," he said. "It is time to end the entanglement of Catholic people with abortion killing. … We will never succeed in building a culture of life if we continue to vote for politicians who support a culture of death."

These are fighting words in a tense year in which the GOP White House candidate has clashed with Pope Francis and Catholic bishops -- conservatives as well as progressives -- on issues linked to immigration and foreign policy. Billionaire Donald Trump now says he is pro-life, after years of supporting abortion rights.

Meanwhile, Democrat Hillary Clinton has a bullet-proof record backing abortion rights. Her running mate, Tim Kaine, is an active Catholic who insists he is personally opposed to abortion -- while holding a 100 percent approval rating from Planned Parenthood for his work in the U.S. Senate.

The bottom line: This bizarre political year, noted Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, is both "depressing and liberating." It's depressing that both candidates have "astonishing flaws," and America is more polarized than ever. It's liberating because it's easier to "ignore the routine tribal loyalty chants of both the Democratic and Republican camps."

Stressing that he was offering advice, not speaking as an archbishop, Chaput wrote that he thinks the major candidates are "so problematic" that "neither is clearly better than the other." He added: "This year, a lot of good people will skip voting for president … or vote for a third party presidential candidate; or not vote at all; or find some mysterious calculus that will allow them to vote for one or the other of the major candidates. … It's a matter properly reserved for every citizen's informed conscience."

On the Catholic left, John Gehring of the Faith in Public Life think tank blasted Chaput for bashing Clinton, as well as Trump. "Donald Trump's toxic candidacy is sui generis, a grave threat to basic democratic norms and ideals, Christian values and the common good," he argued, in Commonweal. "In this context, the archbishop's astonishing false equivalency is irresponsible and even morally dangerous."

And so it goes. Speaking to the Knights, Anderson stressed the urgency of ongoing debates about the religious liberty and freedom of conscience. Also, it's crucial that "we refuse to let the worst among us define who we are as a people," he said.

Was this a shot at Trump, Clinton or both?

"Faithful citizenship means that in times of tragedy we raise a standard of charity, of unity and of fraternity that can make possible forgiveness, healing and reconciliation," he said. "Faithful citizenship calls us to follow the 'better angels of our nature' to build a better society. But to build a better society we must have the freedom to follow those angels."

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