A PUGNATIOUS PRIEST
TELLS IT “LIKE IT IS”
My eye was recently drawn to a bumper sticker that read, “Elect Jesus.”
While I appreciate the sentiment, I’d hate to see him involved in the current race. He’s taken enough abuse already.
One of them is the Rev. Michael P. Orsi, host of “Action for Life TV,” a weekly cable television series devoted to pro-life issues.
Father Orsi is a colleague from my days at The Ave Maria Foundation. He served as chaplain at Ave Maria School of Law, and is currently parochial vicar at a parish in Naples, Florida. His writings appear in numerous publications and online journals.*
Father recently spoke at a pro-life event, where he gave a rafter-shaking talk.
Well, if he’d been speaking indoors he would have shaken the rafters. As it was, he delivered his impassioned message inside a tent. But it was captured on video, and it’s been shaking YouTube pretty thoroughly.
Father’s talk was a call to arms aimed at churches and pastors of all denominations. His point was simple and direct…
Get involved in this election. Get involved NOW. Don’t be inhibited by anxiety about your tax-exempt status. This is our last chance to save religious liberty.
His plea has been cited in various Christian media, and Chicago pro-life activist Tina Mahar has turned it into a meme that’s circulating on Facebook…
Yeah, yeah, I know all about our vaunted separation of church and state. That’s always a hot button. Just look at the hornet’s nest I stirred with an August 12 blog post insisting that the depredations of ISIS have brought us to a war between religious civilizations in which there is “no secular option.”
But the reality is there’s far less legal separation than people like to think. The only religious prohibition the First Amendment imposes is on the federal government establishing an official church. In fact, when the Constitution was adopted, there actually were official churches on the state level.
But let’s not get bogged down in history.
After Father’s talk caused its big stir, The Wanderer published an essay in which he elaborated on the issues raised in his talk. I offer it as my first-ever guest post…
Our Last Chance
By Fr. Michael P. Orsi
I have been quite stunned at the response to a talk I gave on September 10 during a Naples, Florida event marking the National Day of Remembrance for Aborted Children. In it I challenged pastors and churches to come out of the political shadows and take a forthright stand for religious liberty before there is no liberty left to defend.
At latest count, a video of my appeal posted on YouTube has received more than 50,000 hits, and links to it have flooded Facebook’s news feed. This is a clear indication of pent-up frustration over an intense campaign to drive religious voices from the public square — an effort which has been carried on for half a century but has reached a kind of climax under the Obama Administration.
“For too long,” I insisted, “pastors and churches have been bullied into believing that they can say nothing political from the pulpit.”
The main concern holding them back is fear of losing 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. But as I pointed out to those in attendance, since this type of tax exemption was introduced into the law in 1954, “no church, up to the present, has been prosecuted.”
In fact, the most the IRS has ever done to any congregation was to revoke a tax status determination letter which had previously been issued to a church in Binghamton, New York, because the church had sponsored a political ad (this was in 1992, and the ad criticized then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton, interestingly enough). While that revocation cast a cloud over the deductibility of cash offerings and other gifts, the church itself was never forced to pay taxes. The court upholding the IRS’s action called it “more symbolic than substantial.”
And so in the wake of the infamous 1973 Roe v. Wade decision we have seen more than 54 million abortions. We have seen religious orders, schools, hospitals, apostolates, and para-church ministries pressured into providing insurance coverage for abortions, contraceptives, and abortifacients. We have witnessed legalization of the great fantasy called “same-sex marriage,” which is nothing less than an attempt to transform the family (“the basic building block of society”) into something never accepted by any nation or culture from the beginning of time.
This is a trend that’s not just political, but diabolical. And along the way, religious people have endured being called reactionaries, misogynists, bigots, and worse, whenever we’ve raised objections to each new outrage perpetrated against the consciences of believers and the laws of God. As I said in my talk, “Get it straight, for crying out loud, the devil is in this” — all of it.
I called upon pastors to stand up boldly, and to act quickly. It must be said that I wasn’t gentle in my appeal.
“What are you afraid of,” I scolded them. Is it just a matter of losing “a couple of bucks?” What are church leaders really risking, compared to the price paid by history’s great martyrs for religious liberty like St. Thomas More or Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer?
During my talk I said that I wished some church would have its tax-exempt status challenged and for that case to go to the Supreme Court. But this wish was a bit premature. Because, as I pointed out later, the protection of our rights depends on the makeup of the Court. And that make-up very much depends on the outcome of this November’s presidential election.
We have truly reached a tipping point. A lot of thoughtful people are convinced that the very freedom to live our faith is at stake. And as evidence they point to the words of high Administration officials. One such, Martin Castro, chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, has stated:
“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, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.”
Hillary Clinton has made her position clear. In a speech last spring she declared, in reference to abortion:
“Far too many women have been denied critical access to reproductive healthcare and safe childbirth. All the laws we’ve passed don’t count for much if they’re not enforced. Rights have to exist in practice, not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will. And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.”
As Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, has pointed out, it’s our “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases” that Clinton says have to be changed. In other words, we believers must abandon our moral principles. Donahue has insisted unequivocally, “If you are a devout Catholic or Evangelical, remember that you cannot vote for Hillary.”
He’s speaking not only from a Catholic point of view but from a moral one. And he’s entirely right. Clinton advocates death for unborn children. And that is an abomination in the eyes of God. Nothing else she may propose, no social policy, no vision for the country, can offset the evil at the heart of her politics. Her embrace of same-sex marriage and other iniquities only makes the wickedness more inclusive.
With several seats on the Supreme Court and a host of other judicial appointments hanging in the balance — and every expectation that she would fill them with judges who share her warped ideology — Hillary Clinton cannot be considered a morally legitimate choice for President of the United States.
What about Donald Trump?
Here is a man who has lived a life of worldliness beyond the imaginings of most people. Moreover, he has been wildly inconsistent in the views he’s expressed on important public questions. To put it mildly, he’s had a rather loose ethical rudder. But he strikes me as a man on a journey toward some kind of consistency in his moral outlook, though clearly he’s struggled along the way.
Certain religious leaders claim that Trump has come to Christ. Whether this is true, or whether his professed opposition to abortion (except in cases of rape) and the other more traditionalist stands he’s taken are mere political expediency I cannot say. Nor can I express any certainty that, in office, he would live up to the “conservative” promises he’s made during the campaign.
But he does seem to have some respect for the Constitution and the limits it places on government power. This contrasts sharply with the wonton disregard of our founding principles by which the Obama Administration has operated throughout two terms as well as with the abiding commitment to Leftist Progressivism that has marked Hillary Clinton’s life from college days onward.
For all his personal flaws and moral ambiguities, Donald Trump does at least offer us something other than an inevitable, intensifying assault on religious liberty. And he has demonstrated that he’s someone who isn’t cowed by parties, factions, or power structures.
This is no small advantage. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, who would be in line to become majority leader if the Democrats retake the Senate, told a conference hosted recently by Al Sharpton, “A progressive majority on the Supreme Court is an imperative, and if I become majority leader, I will make it happen.”
Pastors have to recognize the reality of the danger faced by religious believers. Our shepherds must use their pulpits to alert and motivate the people who look to them for moral clarity. And they must not be inhibited by phantom threats about tax-exempt status.
It won’t be easy. They will encounter resistance, and that resistance may be tough. As I noted in my talk, pastors have told me that “people get very touchy” when political subjects are addressed in sermons. “Somehow they have come to buy the story that you cannot be political in church.”
Outside their religious communities pastors can expect extreme levels of bitterness. You have only to look at some of the comments about my talk posted on YouTube. A brief sampling will suggest the petty invective that’s all too predictable:
- “This is what a Catholic fanatic looks like.” (from BillyBob Bazooka)
- “Religion is a fascist NAZI based idea …. What a f-ing moron this religious nut is.” (from Sagan Hill)
- “The Catholic church is one of the greatest evils on this planet.” (from A3Kr0)
- “Tax the church!” (from Joe C)
There’s plenty more.
We must not be deterred by such childish nonsense. But neither can we allow ourselves to assume that these comments represent a fringe element. On the contrary, they reflect very widespread sentiment in a time when so many people identify themselves as “none,” in regard to church affiliation. Active hostility to religion is on the rise, and it is precisely that attitude by which Progressives like Hillary Clinton are emboldened.
This election may very well be the last chance for people of faith to defend liberty. And it seems to me that our stand can only be made upon our faith and the churches that profess it.
We’ve been in similar situations before. Great preachers helped to fan the love of freedom on which America’s struggle for independence was based. It was from churches that the fight to abolish slavery was launched. Powerful religious spokesmen and their loyal congregants led the Civil Rights Movement.
I call upon the faith community to take the initiative now.
Let me conclude this essay by repeating the impassioned plea with which I ended my talk: “Please encourage your pastors. Tell your friends what I have said today. And remember — remember — we are in a battle for the soul of America. God has given you His grace, and He will bring us to a successful conclusion of the battle that is before us.”
Here’s a link to Fr. Orsi’s talk on YouTube…
Father Orsi’s isn’t the only voice of faith shaking the rafters these days. Other religious leaders share his fears about how the outcome of this election might impinge on the freedom of believers. And some are speaking out in a full-throated manner that hasn’t been typical of American clergy. Check their views…
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput recently shared a few choice words about the contempt of the Clinton campaign toward America’s Catholics and the teachings of the Church, as revealed in the recent Wikileaks email dump…
Fr. John Lankeit, rector of the Cathedral of Sts. Simon and Jude in Phoenix, was more direct, slamming Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party platform for whole-hearted abortion advocacy…
“There is a candidate, in this 2016 race for president, who along with that candidate’s political party does, in fact, sanction the killing of blacks and Hispanics…. [if] that black person or that Hispanic person is still in his or her mother’s womb.”
On the Evangelical side, Dr. Jim Garlow, pastor of San Diego’s Skyline Church, warns that the nation’s future is at stake in this election. While acknowledging that both candidates are flawed, he made his choice clear…
“As a pastor, I would rather deal with a church attendee who is blatant and brash in his sinning than one who is devious, lying, cunning and deceptive. Both are problematic, but one is easier to deal with than the other. If I were a pastor bringing correction to a parishioner, I would prefer dealing with a ‘Trump-type’ any day over a ‘Hillary-type.’ The chances of making progress with the ‘Trump-type’ are many times greater than the ‘Hillary-type.’”
Rev. Greg Locke, founder and lead pastor of Global Vision Bible Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, contrasts Donald Trump’s apologies for his lewd remarks (which Pastor Locke calls “stupid, wicked and wrong”) with Hillary Clinton’s ongoing evasions and denials about any of her wrongdoing…
I can’t leave a discussion of religion and politics without acknowledging one of the great moral thinkers of our day. I refer, of course, to Whoopi Goldberg, who gained clerical standing by playing someone pretending to be a nun in the “Sister Act” movies. Her explanation for Donald Trump’s popularity?…
“It’s blowback from four years of a black president.”…
Whoopi, Whoopi, Whoopi…
*NOTE: Father Michael Orsi recently reviewed my novel, MY BROTHER’S KEEPER, for the priestly journal, Homiletic & Pastoral Review, as noted on this blog September 25. He shook a few rafters with that too. Give it a read…