As no doubt everyone except perhaps an ice bound Eskimo is aware, Pope Francis just finished a visit to Mexico. As part of this, he came to El Paso, Texas, to celebrate Mass. El Paso is the largest city in Texas which sits on the border with Mexico, so from a strategic standpoint, it made sense that this was the location the Holy Father chose.
But while on his trip, he was asked a question about Republican Candidate for President Donald Trump’s position that a wall be built to keep undocumented immigrants from coming across the border with Mexico, and also that those who cross illegally be sent home. Pope Francis has been quoted as having said something to the effect that a person who made such a statement couldn’t be a Christian.
This erupted into all kinds of reactions by people. Some favored Trump, some the Holy Father. Reasonable people can disagree as to whether what was said was proper.
But one line of thinking that kept popping up and being played and replayed by people is that the Pope “should stay out of politics”. I am about to take issue with this and in a serious way. If you are tempted to dismiss my remarks, or decide already what I will say, please read on. You may be surprised.
First, I’ve heard this same mantra many times before and I find it very interesting that when it is used it seems to almost always be in response to a statement by a Catholic clergyman. Pope, bishop, priest, and even religious brothers or sisters. I have seen many occasions in which Protestant clergy, and sometimes even Jewish rabbis, have made political statements, but I’ve rarely seen them slapped with the same kind of negative reaction that Catholic leaders are subjected to. It seems to almost be a reflex response for a large number of people to tell Catholic leaders to “butt out.”
The thing is… I do not see anywhere in Holy Scripture or in Sacred Tradition in which it is stated that clergy should stay out of politics. On the contrary, Jesus, when He walked the Earth, dealt with quite a lot of politics. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were two different parties (call them religious parties if you like, read the New Testament and you’ll see the politics at play). The Jewish clergy went to the Roman Governor Pilate to have Christ condemned, since by law they were not able to have Him put to death. And then we have King Herod in the mix as well.
Jesus comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable during His life on Earth. He also said “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.”
So I am puzzled at this idea that the Church should have no say in politics, re: the affairs of this world.
Additionally, whether you want to accept this or not, the idea that religion should be separated from daily life is in fact a very paganidea. The Roman gods, for example, didn’t inspire people to do good things. Sacrifices weren’t made to obtain their help. They were made to appease their wrath. Religion in pagan society was designed to keep the gods OUT of daily life. If appeased they might help someone, but they weren’t expected to lead a person by a path of holiness to a destination of eternal happiness.
Christianity in fact is intended to be in the realm of politics because it is an incarnational religion. Jesus Christ is God, and He came in the flesh to live among us. By His very existence He involved Himself in the affairs of the world.
The problem is people lump politics in its subjective form with its objective form. Objectively, the Church should be very much involved in politics. Subjectively, it should distance itself.
What do I mean? The Church can and should make a stand on the very things that involve the well-being of humanity. This includes immigration, abortion, euthanasia, health care reform, living wages, rights of prisoners, capital punishment, climate change, racism, war and peace, etc.
Where the Church should not stray is in getting into personal politics. Example: The Church should not tell the faithful “Vote for So-and-So.” The Church should not give money to political campaigns. It’s also probably best (though this did occur in the past) to not allow Catholic clergy to hold public office.
At first glance, you might think, “Right, the Church shouldn’t favor a particular candidate because that’s not fair and it’s also telling the faithful how to exercise their constitutional right. And priests and nuns shouldn’t be mayors or senators.”
But there’s more. The Church cannot tie itself to anyone except Jesus Christ! If the Catholic Church steps in and designates a candidate, it rises and falls on that candidate’s success and also his or her behavior. This simply can’t happen.
So the Church can and should be involved in the affairs of this world, and in that involvement, spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the benefit of all (believers and non-believers alike).