“Now, Matt, aren’t you’re getting a little carried away in your political paranoia? After all, no politicians are seriously discussing removing the tax-exempt status of the churches.”
True, but lest you think I’ve gone off the deep end, first consider that on the long list of “political enemies” targeted by the IRS is Catholic contributor Anne Hendershott, whose articles I read regularly. Her supposed crime was exposing monetary ties between self-described Catholic organizations and progressive organizations defying the non-negotiable stands of Catholic morality. The investigation of the IRS scandal is still playing out, but evidence strongly suggests motives aimed at the subjugation of political opposition.
But no tax-exempt organization should be taking any sort of political stand without forfeiting their tax-exempt status, right? Ironically, the Johnson Amendment, which saddled all tax-exempt organizations with the requirement to present themselves as apolitical, was drafted by then-senator Lyndon Johnson in 1954 through the very same motives: tax-exempt organizations (non-religious in this case) were causing concern for his re-election. Rather than constitutionally challenging the amendment, the churches and religious organizations signed on, unconcerned with the freedom they were obliviously giving up.
It is indeed true that the Catholic Church does not have a political bias. Jacques Maritain nicely describes two base principles guiding the Church’s dealings with the political realm (book “Scholasticism and Politics”, chapter, “Catholic Action and Political Action”). First, the Church articulates the end to which political action strives, the temporal good of the earthly city:
We know that once fidelity is assured to the higher principles established in this matter [said temporal good] by the common teaching of the Church, Catholics are free to adhere to quite diverse political conceptions …
Second, the means to this end lies outside the domain of Church pronouncements:
… by an interior education and formation in the order properly called theological, … Catholic action begins to prepare minds for that action which it cannot supply or command or suggest, and which cannot be accomplished in its name.
So how would the Church end up as a political target? John Adams once noted, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Human nature is oriented toward worship. When religion is eradicated from public consciousness, ideology will fill the void. Politics oversteps its bounds when it becomes concerned with defining the common good rather than simply hashing out the means to it. Fr. John Courtney Murray keenly noted: “… only in a disintegrating society does politics become a controversy over ends; it should be simply a controversy over means to ends already agreed with sufficient unanimity”.
This is what is happening to our country. The definition of the common good itself is the cause of political divisiveness. Our political disagreements have taken on the character of the religious and ideological conflicts of past ages. The Catholic Church has a clear view of what constitutes the common good. It would be morally wrong for Her to remain silent in light of these attacks on Truth, so She must continue to speak out. Thus the will to subdue the political enemy becomes the will to subdue the Church.
Our national legalization of abortion came not through the recognized process of legislation, but by judicial overreach in the verdict of Roe v. Wade. “Terri’s Law”, protecting Terri Schiavo’s right to sustenance, was overturned to set a new legal precedent on euthanasia. A U.S. district court judge overturned California’s Proposition 8 to enable gay marriage in the state. In all three cases dissenting views on the common good were influential in introducing the precedents. As popular opinion continues to stray, more and more conventions will be bypassed to change the laws and silence the faithful.
But in the same way that our national leadership has blinded itself to the true nature of our conflict with Islamic militants, the political elite do not see how our Church can triumph against their current advances. Deceived by their own ideologies, they do not understand the ties between religion and human nature, so they overlook the influence of faith on historical events. Moreover, no enactment of an ultimately self-destructive worldview, as are all that go against true human nature, will stand the test of time. As Christopher Dawson observes in his book “Beyond Politics”:
Christianity teaches the existence of a divine progress in history which will be realized through the Church in the Kingdom of God. But at the same time it recognizes the essential duality of the historical process – the coexistence of two opposing principles, each of which works and finds concrete social expression in history. Thus we have no right to expect that Christian principles will work in practice in the simple way that a political system may work. The Christian order is a supernatural order. It has its own principles and its own laws which are not those of the visible world and which may often seem to contradict them. Its victories may be found in apparent defeat and its defeats in material success.
Back in 1970, Joseph Ratzinger spoke of the resilience of a Church in a foreseeable state of persecution (book “Faith and the Future”):
The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. … It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek … But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church.
His prediction seems to be coming more and more to fruition within our own nation as we sear our national conscience with ideology. It is certainly imperative to speak out against these efforts to marginalize our faith while we still have the freedom to do so. But regardless of the outcome, we will always have God on our side as long as we remain faithful. Those of us who are most tested on earth and persevere will receive the greatest reward in heaven. When we witness to the Truth, we witness to Divine Providence, which is the true master of history from beginning to end.