Some mornings….The church shootings in Charleston…arson and desecration at a church on the shores of the Sea of Galilee…some mornings are just ugly. I wish I could exclusively blame Democrats, but we have our own problems. Evidence of Mike Huckabee’s incredibly bad judgement just keeps growing. It seems like there ought to be something that can be done about such ugliness.
A civilized society’s first line of defense is not the law, police and courts but customs, traditions, rules of etiquette and moral values. These behavioral norms — mostly transmitted by example, word of mouth and religious teachings — represent a body of wisdom distilled over the ages through experience and trial and error. They include important thou-shalt-nots, such as thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not steal and thou shalt not cheat. They also include all those courtesies that have traditionally been associated with ladylike and gentlemanly conduct.
Williams goes on to say that such is what is missing today, and Williams blames the so-called “Greatest Generation” for failing to transmit that set of values. Perhaps, perhaps not, but the latest papal encyclical certainly makes clear one place where blame can go – the church. Jeb Bush was asked about it even before it was out and he is catching heat from the left over his comments – see for example Peter Beinart and Andrew Rosenthal.
What exactly did Bush say? As Rosenthal reports it:
But, Mr. Bush said, “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or from my pope.” He added that “religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting into the political realm.”
Both critics excoriate Bush for what they see as hypocrisy since in their view so much of Republican politics is driven by “religious fanaticism.” But they are missing Bush’s bigger point.
The church, and I am not singling out Catholicism here – this applies to Protestants like me too, has spent too much time focusing on issues and not enough time and energy focusing on the personal development of its adherents. The first job of the church is not to have a stand on the issues of the day, it is to pass on the values that Williams speaks of. The church absolutely has a right to take a stand on issues, but it is not the first job of the church. With this encyclical, it seems to this outside observer, that the Pope is joining the trend of so many American Evangelicals – to focus on issues first.
The strength of the religious argument in the political arena lies not in the issue discussion itself, but in the people that hold the so-called “religious position.” Which is why Bush’s critics ran so fast to the hypocrisy argument. That argument does not address Bush’s position on climate change at all; it simply calls Bush’s personal integrity into question. If the church does not focus first and foremost on making people whose integrity speaks much louder than anything any critic might say, then anything the church does say on an issue is automatically subject to such attack.
So what can we do about the pervasive ugliness that hit me so hard as I read the news this morning? Well, for one thing, the church could refocus on developing less ugly people. I think if we do that, the issues will resolve as they should. I think that is Jeb Bush’s point, and it is one that I agree with entirely.