1) Religious tolerance has a checkered history in American history. For every story and example of ecumenical activity there is an ugly one to remind us of our collective failures. Coming from the land of the Puritans I learned in history class to balance their yearning to worship freely with their treatment of individuals like Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson. My ethnic history tells the story of the dispersion of the Arcadians from their homes based not only on their nationality, but also their Catholicism. As recent as 2012, Mitt Romney had to face the accusations and whispers that Mormons were not fit for high public office.
2) Whose religion in the public square would be acceptable? As part of the 1950s campaign against communism, President Eisenhower urged Americans to attend church on Sunday, any church. This was an easy demarcation between the bad guys and the good guys. If you did not attend church, well it was obvious where you stood.
But was attending any church really acceptable then, and is it still acceptable? Re-read some of the comments on the governor’s website. This is a serious question. When candidates, pundits, and our neighbor talk about restoring religion’s place in American society, the initial response should be whose religion are they speaking about? When the Catholic bishops say this, are they accepting Judaism? Do Southern Baptists accept the practices of Mormonism? Would Orthodox Jews be comfortable with Islamic religious practices? And what about Hinduism?
3) Anti-Catholicism is alive and well. Let’s not kid or delude ourselves. In addition to individuals, groups, and institutions that either hate or are indifferent to religion in general there are those who have a special antipathy towards the Catholic Church. Maybe the days of blatant signs of “Catholics Need Not Apply” are gone, but the attitude of Catholics being anti-intellectual, baby making bigots are not. Pick a term – sexist, homophobic, anti-semitic – and Catholics have been accused of being it.
The saddest regret is when these attacks come from those with whom we share a special bond. When our protestant brethren attack us it is like being stabbed by a distant family member.
4) Individual Catholics must find the appropriate response for themselves. Whether it is in the lunch room, classroom, local club, or at a family barbecue the snarky remarks or full-frontal attack will occur at some point. In order to respond we must try to understand the why.
The majority, if not all, of people spreading such lies are simply not aware of the fact that they are lies; they genuinely believe these things which are not true. Sometimes, people have been told these lies as if they were true by people they trust (parents or pastors) or have read them in books or on the internet (forgetting the fact that something is published does not mean it is necessarily truthful!). And lastly, there are people who are not interested in debate but rather just want the opportunity to rant and rave.
As Catholics, we should always be willing to engage in rational discussion without insults. If this offer is refused, or the person does not actually engage in this, then we should certainly walk away and “shake the dust from his feet”. By offering the opening for discussion and then having this refuse we provide a very powerful witness with compassion, charity and calmness.
We are called by faith to love and pray for those who “persecute us.” That is not the same as putting ourselves in situations where we face constant emotional and spiritual abuse.
5) The enemy of my enemy is NOT always my friend. As the Church navigates itself through a contentious political and social climate it needs to be aware that alliances in the short term can provide awkward and troublesome results in the long term. Take any social problem and we quickly realize while many denominations and groups have the same goal, approaches vary widely.
The institutionalized Church must be authentic to its teaching and its often nuanced approach that comes from centuries of stored knowledge and experience. Everyday Catholics have the responsibility to find out what the Church really teaches about certain topics and practices, not what we think it teaches.
Finally, by offering an opposing viewpoint, an Everyday Catholic can possibly prevent someone from leaving the Catholic Church or even be the seed in a decision to join the Church.
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