Yes to Caesar, Yes to God, but Reconciling Them Is Hard
Did Jesus go beyond his competence when he said to those who don't reach out to the least of the brethren: "Depart from me you accursed. . ."
Oct. 31, 2013 3:12 p.m. ET
But Nicholas G. Hahn argues that the U.S. Catholic bishops should not try to apply this central Christian insight to American political questions ("Tax Policy Isn't the Purview of Preachers," Houses of Worship, Oct. 25). In fact, they have a responsibility to do so. While Catholics can legitimately disagree over particular policies, we're called to root those policy judgments in Catholic teachings, among them our shared obligation to protect the most vulnerable among us and see that their basic needs are met. Church teaching explicitly recognizes that the government has an essential role to play in promoting this aspect of the common good.
Along with our rich body of teachings on such questions, Catholics have extensive on-the-ground experience helping the poor. At a time of growing inequality, with some 46 million Americans living in poverty, a robust Catholic voice is essential to the American political conversation.
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Mr. Hahn believes that pastors are on firm biblical ground when speaking about moral issues, but that their veering into political matters such as tax revenues or military spending isn't consistent with biblical teaching.
Evangelical pastors who stick primarily to moral issues are the ones most likely to attract attention from IRS enforcers of U.S. tax policy. In order to maintain their tax-exempt status, churches aren't allowed to participate or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of candidates for public office. Traditionalist preachers strongly opposed to abortion or gay marriage must carefully frame their message in the pulpit so as not to favor a candidate or political party. Meanwhile, social-justice-driven pastors actually receive advice from the IRS and Justice Department as to what they can and cannot say to help social-justice-driven politicians (i.e., Democrats). Last year Attorney General Eric Holder and IRS officials briefed several hundred pastors in the African-American community on how to motivate and steer parishioners, citing voter-ID laws allegedly designed to "disenfranchise" black voters.
Mr. Hahn's distinction between moral and political issues may be biblically based, but it doesn't reflect current practice. Churches and other nonprofits concerned about moral issues are more likely to be intimidated by the government than are those who favor more government spending and higher taxes. Those who give guidance contrary to biblical teaching and outside their purview eventually will be answering to someone who has a pay grade well above the president's.
Perhaps we can better understand our religious leaders sounding more like politicians than pastors if we realize how deeply they are already beholden to government. As prominent examples, Catholic hospitals receive government funds without which they fear not surviving. This is presumably why the government can tell them to ignore Catholic theology and supply free condoms and abortion drugs. Remember, Catholic Charities receives most of its funds from government.
Like the Pied Piper, the pastors are leading their flocks to an inevitable apotheosis: government as the holy mother, brooking no interference by any other god or authority, imposing its own secular humanitarianism and finally outlawing and persecuting religious belief.
John J. Greczek
River Forest, Ill.
Did Jesus go beyond his competence when he said to those who don't reach out to the least of the brethren: "Depart from me you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41)?
Deacon Don Zirkel