Church and state

Column: Conference found where religion and politics intersect

by Michael Schuttloffel

Good manners, say some who claim to have them, dictate that one should not discuss religion or politics in polite company.

What then of mixing religion and politics? Devotees of Emily Post would worry that such a flagrant violation of etiquette might disturb the tranquility of a Saturday evening dinner party.

Similarly, many Catholics attending Mass on a Sunday morning would worry that such an incendiary combination might disturb the tranquility of an otherwise restful hour in the pews. Much as McDonald’s once strove to keep the hot side hot and the cold side cold, Catholics often prefer to compartmentalize their religion and their politics, keeping them separate so that, as Kipling said of East and West, “never the twain shall meet.”

But meet they do. Politics and religion are inextricably bound, for both are communal attempts to define “the good.” One’s religion plays no small role in shaping one’s conscience, and one’s conscience hopefully plays a large role in shaping one’s political preferences. Politics and religion have much to say to and about each other. Ensuring that they do so without trespassing upon each other’s mission requires great care.

Well, perhaps not too much care.

Religious expression faces the specter of involuntary evacuation from the public square. (‘Tis the season to rename the giving tree at Florida Gulf Coast University the “giving garden.”) Warnings of impending theocracy notwithstanding, there is far more likelihood of secularism smothering religious expression than religious fanaticism overrunning our political institutions. Thus, people of faith might be required to be a little less accommodating of secularists’ delicate sensibilities.

This fall, some particularly sensitive Catholics were startled to hear their priests make mention of certain moral issues currently under intense political debate. While no sensible Catholic wants the pulpit transformed into a political soapbox, the church dare not be silent on the premier human rights issues of our time.

The Kansas Catholic Conference, as the public policy arm of the church, plays a key part in balancing the church’s dual roles as nonpartisan religious institution and vocal advocate of social justice. When issues important to Catholics are debated in the political arena, the conference represents the church’s interests. The conference also leads internal discussions over whether it is appropriate for the church to speak on a particular political issue — and if so, how.

The complications of faithful citizenship are not new to mankind, as evidenced by the 2,000 year old injunction: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” The Kansas Catholic Conference, by operating at the intersection of the religious and the political, hopefully renders a service to the faithful as they endeavor to harmonize their patriotism and their Catholicism.

About the author

Michael Schuttloffel

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