Is This Constitutional?

The similarities between neo-Calvinist and Roman Catholic transformers continue to be remarkable (at least to all about me). Adding to the remarkableness is that the inspiration for cleaning up public life or for motivating Christians to become involved can go in either politically conservative or liberal directions. What is more, the ideas don’t need to be tied directly to confessional theology — as in matters that rise to the level of dogma.

Consider two recent examples from the Roman Catholic world. First an appeal on the left to a version of the Social Gospel that goes cosmic:

“As Catholics, we must be continue to be involved the issues of world hunger, human rights, peace building and justice promotion,” Wenski said. “This social ministry is not opposed to the ultimate spiritual and transcendent destiny of the human person. It presupposes this destiny, and is ultimately oriented toward that end.”

“This Earth is our only highway to heaven,” he said. “And we have to maintain it. As Catholics we are concerned about ecology, both natural ecology but also human ecology. In other words, we have to make sure that to the best of our abilities this highway of life is cleared of the obstacles that sin, both personal and structural, has placed in the path of those traveling on it.”

Remarking on biblical figure Job, who’s friends “blamed him for his miseries,” Wenski said that, “today, in a world of increasing inequality, as Catholics we must struggle against what Pope Francis has termed ‘the globalization of indifference,’ and we must struggle against that tendency within American society, which we see especially today in the debate over immigration reform, to blame the victim!”

Then a call (not that one) for Christian statesmen to clean up the U.S.A.:

There are currently twenty-six Catholics in the Senate, although many are Catholics in name only. The House of Representatives lists 142 members who claim to be Catholic – the greatest number in our history, and at a crucial period of moral peril. But where is their witness to natural law, religious freedom, and enduring moral truths?

Happily, several (faithful) Catholics are considering a run for the presidency. We should hope that would include both parties. What a wonderful moment it would be if our once-great country were to produce a number of great Catholic statesmen ready and able to confront the great crises, moral and civilizational, threatening our nation (and the world) today.

This post comes with a citation of the Roman Catholic Church’s catechism about the work of God’s people (which I hardly regard as dogma):

898 By reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will. . . .It pertains to them in a special way so to illuminate and order all temporal things with which they are closely associated that these may always be affected and grow according to Christ and may be to the glory of the Creator and Redeemer.

899 The initiative of lay Christians is necessary especially when the matter involves discovering or inventing the means for permeating social, political, and economic realities with the demands of Christian doctrine and life. This initiative is a normal element of the life of the Church: Lay believers are in the front line of Church life; for them the Church is the animating principle of human society.

Imagine if we heard imams in mosques telling Muslims the Islamic equivalent of these bromides. Maybe then the notion of secular society and the separation of church and state (not to mention the spirituality of the church) look a whole lot more appealing. But when Christians violate American habits of governance for Christ’s sake, it’s not only okay but great pretty good.

Meanwhile, which of the saints, whether overseers of the overseen, are worried about the teachers at church institutions that might be leading the people and the politicians astray (think Richard McBrien):

Although Fr. McBrien was often called fearless and broad-minded, he was frequently hypersensitive to criticisms of his own views. After he defended Mario Cuomo against possible ex-communication, for instance, McBrien complained about the letters he received, calling them “mean and vindictive.” Notably, though, he never used such language against politicians who took the lives of unborn children, much less theologians who provided cover for them.

The one thing most frequently said about Fr. McBrien—which he himself affirmed—was the least convincing: that he “never held back.”

In fact, he did hold back—on everything from the value of clerical celibacy, to the dangers of moral relativism, to the necessity of the Catechism, to courageous pro-life witness. He had the intelligence and gifts to take action, guided by the wisdom of the Church, but consistently let those opportunities escape him.

But why oh why do American Christians worry more about Washington, D.C. or debates at the United Nations Security Council than about faculty or pastors and priests within their own communion? Could it have anything to do with failing to heed the apostle Paul’s dualism, that distinction he makes in 2 Cor 4 between the seen and unseen things?


11 thoughts on “Is This Constitutional?

  1. Hi DGH –

    Forgive me for asking a question that you’ve probably answered 1,000 times over. I have been reading this blog for over two years (but haven’t read every post), heard a few audio recordings, and read your book The Lost Soul of American Protestantism (which, to me, was the best book I’ve ever read on American Christianity). I get the confessionalism and the divide between churchly Protestantism and evangelicalism. I do. But can you tell me what you believe the church’s role is in regards to poverty, hunger, injustice, etc? Or at least link me to where you’ve written or spoken on that? I’d greatly appreciate it. Thanks!


  2. D Thomas, the short answer is not much — that is, the church’s role regarding poverty, hunger, etc. is the same as its role everyday: the ministry of word, sacrament and discipline. The confession puts it this way:

    25.3. Unto this catholic visible church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto.

    Yes, the diaconate does respond to believers’ physical and temporal needs. But if deacons tried to do that for the world, I’d have to tithe a lot more than I do.


  3. Overheard at an “ordination’ council for a musician’s ceremony to become a professional clergyman by receiving charisma by means of the laying on of hands by other clergyman—-”

    “Young man, if you can do anything else other than being a preacher or a pastor, then you should do that. Only enter the ministry if you would not be well rounded and happy doing anything else…”

    Do you want to be human, or would you rather sacrifice enough to be saved?

    Do you want to only give a certain defined amount of money or do you want to get your prayers answered by giving more (nobody can tell you it’s ever enough)


  4. So in other words, do the quotes above validate the 1959-60 worries about JFKs Catholicism?

    Or was he Catholic in name only?


  5. Members are free to do their thing in charity as long as it doesn’t prevent the graces of word and sacrament.

    There isn’t a lot of time spent railing against poverty and obvious evils, members are expected to live out their gratitude in piety and not add to the obvious sins that increase poverty and misery, and reduce it in their daily life


  6. Thank you so much for the response. Erik, I’ll be watching the video.

    Just a follow up – I understand the WCF’s statement on the church’s ministry. Word, sacrament, and discipline are the priority. So in regard to the word, when the minister speaks on passages from the gospels about loving our neighbors, giving to the poor, etc., what does the minister say? Also, when a Christian becomes aware of the hopeless condition of many around the world or in his own neighborhood, what is he supposed to do about it?


  7. D Thomas, every morning service addresses our sin and failure to uphold the ten commandments, summarised by loving God and neighbour, followed by confession and assurance of forgiveness for those with regenerated faith

    What specific passages of the gospels dealing with the poor do you have in mind?


  8. D Thomas, so you advocate revising the Confession of Faith? Nothing wrong with that. But have you considered that a body of teaching designed to summarize God’s word doesn’t tell a minister what he’s supposed to do when preaching to his congregation.

    Actually, if you look at the catechisms on the Ten Commandments, the exposition of the Second Table, the one about loving neighbor, does say what a Christian is supposed to do and not do:

    Q. 64. What is required in the fifth commandment?
    A. The fifth commandment requireth the preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to every one in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors or equals.

    Q. 65. What is forbidden in the fifth commandment?
    A. The fifth commandment forbiddeth the neglecting of, or doing anything against, the honor and duty which belongeth to every one in their several places and relations.

    Q. 66. What is the reason annexed to the fifth commandment?
    A. The reason annexed to the fifth commandment is a promise of long life and prosperity (as far as it shall serve for God’s glory and their own good) to all such as keep this commandment.

    Q. 67. Which is the sixth commandment?
    A. The sixth commandment is, Thou shalt not kill.

    Q. 68. What is required in the sixth commandment?
    A. The sixth commandment requireth all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.

    Q. 69. What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?
    A. The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto.

    Q. 70. Which is the seventh commandment?
    A. The seventh commandment is, Thou shalt not commit adultery.

    Q. 71. What is required in the seventh commandment?
    A. The seventh commandment requireth the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech and behavior.

    Q. 72. What is forbidden in the seventh commandment?
    A. The seventh commandment forbiddeth all unchaste thoughts, words and actions.

    Q. 73. Which is the eighth commandment?
    A. The eighth commandment is, Thou shalt not steal.

    Q. 74. What is required in the eighth commandment?
    A. The eighth commandment requireth the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others.

    Q. 75. What is forbidden in the eighth commandment?
    A. The eighth commandment forbiddeth whatsoever doth or may unjustly hinder our own or our neighbor’s wealth or outward estate.

    Q. 76. Which is the ninth commandment?
    A. The ninth commandment is, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

    Q. 77. What is required in the ninth commandment?
    A. The ninth commandment requireth the maintaining and promoting of truth between man and man, and of our own and our neighbor’s good name, especially in witness-bearing.

    Q. 78. What is forbidden in the ninth commandment?
    A. The ninth commandment forbiddeth whatsoever is prejudicial to truth, or injurious to our own or our neighbor’s good name.

    Q. 79. Which is the tenth commandment?
    A. The tenth commandment is, Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.

    Q. 80. What is required in the tenth commandment?
    A. The tenth commandment requireth full contentment with our own condition, with a right and charitable frame of spirit toward our neighbor, and all that is his.

    Q. 81. What is forbidden in the tenth commandment?
    A. The tenth commandment forbiddeth all discontentment with our own estate, envying or grieving at the good of our neighbor, and all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his.

    Is that not enough? I do have a day job and so does my pastor? And was Jesus wrong to say that love of neighbor summarized the Second Table of the law?

    Maybe you want to see injustice eliminated from human existence. Take a number.


  9. Also, when a Christian becomes aware of the hopeless condition of many around the world or in his own neighborhood, what is he supposed to do about it?


    Churches and individual Christians typically have faulty assumptions about the causes of poverty, resulting in the use of strategies that do considerable harm to poor people and themselves. When Helping Hurts provides foundational concepts, clearly articulated general principles and relevant applications. The result is an effective and holistic ministry to the poor, not a truncated gospel.


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