The following are comments by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M.Cap., as he accepted the annual Meese Award Nov. 16 in Washington, D.C., from the Alliance Defending Freedom, which specializes in legal defense of religious liberty.
Earlier this spring I had the privilege of being asked to take part in the funeral of Chuck Colson. Because of other pastoral duties, I couldn’t attend. But the invitation meant a great deal to me. Chuck embodied what it means to be a Christian leader. He was a man of faith, wisdom, humility and courage. These are easy virtues to list. They’re much harder to live – but Chuck did live them, and he cultivated them in others through the daily witness of his own actions.
With Augustine, Chuck saw that justice in a society depends not on technical skills or elegant ideas, but on virtue in its leaders as well as its people. Competence without character is a good recipe for wickedness.
He understood that the differences dividing us as religious believers are important. What we believe matters. It shapes how we think about the nature of the human person and the purpose of human society. But he also knew that the love of God we share is more important.
This is especially true among Christians. Chuck’s work in developing “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” as a statement in 1994, and the Manhattan Declaration in 2009, was vital in building common cause and friendship among all of us who seek to be disciples of Jesus Christ.
I don’t have any illusions about “earning” this award. Dante has a circle somewhere in The Inferno for people who believe their own good press. But I’m very glad to accept the Meese Award to serve the efforts of the Alliance Defending Freedom. The ADF does crucial work for religious liberty, and it’s never been more urgently needed than now. Ed Meese, Robert Bork, Chuck Colson, Robby George – all of these men whom the ADF has honored in the past are heroes to me. I’m grateful to be included in their company.
It’s a special privilege to share this award today with Representative Frank Wolf. Congressman Wolf helped found the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 1998, on which I later served. His lifetime of service to the cause of human rights and religious freedom is extraordinary. I salute him for it.
I’ve been thinking for the past week about the simplicity, dignity and good will of Governor Romney’s Election Night concession speech. And I’ve compared those qualities with the vulgarity, vindictiveness and deceit of the campaign that defeated him. Somewhere between the President’s calls for civility in public life last year and the actions of his supporters in re-electing him, we crossed over into a different and lower kind of America.
The President has many personal strengths. But the people who staff his administration – including Catholics who clearly know better – have consistently misrepresented the serious issues involved in the HHS mandate debate. As a senior federal judge told me recently from his own case-load experience, key people in this administration simply do not seem to believe in “religious freedom” in the sense the American Founders originally intended it – in other words, as a distinct human liberty and a priority human right. This is the political terrain we face for the next four years.
So what can we do about it as Christians?
Erasmus once said, “You can’t be a king unless reason is king over you.” If we want to lead others to do the right thing; if we want to turn our country away from duplicity and toward real justice; then we need to do it without anger or fear or despair.
Erasmus’ great friend, Sir Thomas More, had very good reasons to fear because of his defiance of Henry VIII – especially when his own English bishops decided to bend the knee to their king. But More never lost his inner peace. He always radiated joy. And even awaiting his own death, he refused to despair. In his letters, More writes, “If you cannot [tear out] wrongheaded opinions by the root, if you cannot cure … vices of long standing, yet you must not abandon the ship in a storm because you cannot control the wind.”
The wind is the business of God. Success is the business of God. Our business is to fight the good fight. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Again: Our business is to fight the good fight. The Alliance Defending Freedom is vitally important in that work. That’s really why I’m here today — not to be honored, but to honor the ADF, its leaders and its staff, and to ask all of you to continue your generous support for its service.
Thank you for the joy of being with you today. And may God bless all of us — and our country.