History is full of great quotations that people never said. One of the best lines comes from Vladimir Lenin. He described Russian progressives, social democrats, and other fellow travelers as “useful idiots” – naïve allies in revolution whom the Bolsheviks promptly crushed when they took power.
Or so the legend goes. In fact, there’s no evidence Lenin actually spoke those words, at least in public. But no one seems to care. It’s a compelling line, and in its own way, entirely true. The naïve and imprudent can very easily end up as useful tools in a larger conflict; or to frame it more generously, as useful innocents. The result is usually the same. They’re discarded.
History is also full of unfortunate comments that really were said – as found, for example, in a recent Rome-based journal article that many have already rightly criticized. The article in question, La Civiltà Cattolica’s “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA: A Surprising Ecumenism,” is an exercise in dumbing down and inadequately presenting the nature of Catholic/evangelical cooperation on religious freedom and other key issues.
Catholics and other Christians who see themselves as progressive tend to be wary of the religious liberty debate. Some distrust it as a smokescreen for conservative politics. Some see it as a distraction from other urgent issues. Some are made uneasy by the cooperation of many Catholics and evangelicals, as well as Mormons and many Orthodox, to push back against abortion on demand, to defend marriage and the family, and to resist LGBT efforts to weaken religious freedom protections through coercive SOGI (sexual orientation/gender identity) “anti-discrimination” laws.
But working for religious freedom has never precluded service to the poor. The opposite is true. In America, the liberty of religious communities has always been a seedbed of social action and ministry to those in need.
The divide between Catholic and other faith communities has often run deep. Only real and present danger could draw them together. The cooperation of Catholics and evangelicals was quite rare when I was a young priest. Their current mutual aid, the ecumenism that seems to so worry La Civilta Cattolica, is a function of shared concerns and principles, not ambition for political power.
As an evangelical friend once said, the whole idea of Baptist faith cuts against the integration of Church and state. Foreign observers who want to criticize the United States and its religious landscape – and yes, there’s always plenty to criticize — should note that fact. It’s rather basic.
Dismissing today’s attacks on religious liberty as a “narrative of fear” — as the La Civiltà Cattolica author curiously describes it — might have made some sense 25 years ago. Now it sounds willfully ignorant. It also ignores the fact that America’s culture wars weren’t wanted, and weren’t started, by people faithful to constant Christian belief.
So it’s an especially odd kind of surprise when believers are attacked by their co-religionists merely for fighting for what their Churches have always held to be true.
Earlier this month, one of the main architects and financiers of today’s LGBT activism said publicly what should have been obvious all along: The goal of at least some gay activism is not simply to assure equality for the same-sex attracted, but to “punish the wicked” – in other words, to punish those who oppose the LGBT cultural agenda.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out whom that might include. Today’s conflicts over sexual freedom and identity involve an almost perfect inversion of what we once meant by right and wrong.
Catholics are called to treat all persons with charity and justice. That includes those who hate what we believe. It demands a conversion of heart. It demands patience, courage and humility. We need to shed any self-righteousness. But charity and justice can’t be severed from truth. For Christians, Scripture is the Word of God, the revelation of God’s truth – and there’s no way to soften or detour around the substance of Romans 1:18-32, or any of the other biblical calls to sexual integrity and virtuous conduct.
Trying to do so demeans what Christians have always claimed to believe. It reduces us to useful tools of those who would smother the faith that so many other Christians have suffered, and are now suffering, to fully witness.
This is why groups that fight for religious liberty in our courts, legislatures, and in the public square – distinguished groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom and Becket (formerly the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty) – are heroes, not “haters.”
And if their efforts draw Catholics, evangelicals and other people of good will together in common cause, we should thank God for the unity it brings.
The Archbishop encourages readers to learn more about, and to support with their prayers and resources, the Alliance Defending Freedom at www.adflegal.org, and Becket at www.becketlaw.org.
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Thank you for your clarity of thought! We cannot allow secularists to drive our Faith.
I was raised Catholic, said the Rosary every day. I do not recognize the church of my youth (the church of Jesus Christ) in the current heroes of evangelicals and Catholic conservatives like Archbishop Chaput and Newt Gingrich (!). I wish conservative clerics would spend even half the time following the example of Jesus Christ that they spend on political statements like this one.
Till then I will be a “former” Catholic.
Thanks you. I stand with you. Just because its popular doesn’t make it right.
What threat to your “religious liberty?” All my life I’ve heard nutty fellow Catholics talk about imaginary persecution, when what they really mean is, someone is holding me in ridicule for the ridiculous things I believe and the discredited, twisted clerics I pay heed to?
Really your commentary misses the point of the recent concerns raised by the Vatican. LIteralism that is espoused by the evangelical community is diametrically in opposition to Church teaching. Such literalism leads to the statement about the parallel to Jihadism. Frankly, the greatest threat to Christianity is not atheism, agnosticism but literalism. Such a position alienates millions from the true message: The Golden Rule.
The Civilta Cattolica article which has a nod from the pope shows the direction of the Catholic church and the reason why I no longer attend mass or make donations to support the church. The church under the current pope is adrift, listless and unmoored from the teachings of our Lord. The Catholic church now in control of by leaders lacking spiritual courage has been temporarily transformed into a feel good safe space club no different than a Facebook group. I say “temporarily” because God will have the last word on this not these mortals who can’t even wake themselves up from sleep.
So maybe Pope Francis is a “useful idiot” and true Catholic doctrine os found in the White House of Donald Trump and Steve Bannon? I didn’t think so either but that seems to be the implication of the Archbishop’s words.
P.S. The article so passionately decried by American religious extremists can be read in the original at: http://www.laciviltacattolica.it/articolo/evangelical-fundamentalism-and-catholic-integralism-in-the-usa-a-surprising-ecumenism/
So true Archbishop Chaput how long before we will be called enemies of the state for our beliefs and criminally procecuted
Am I being vain and proud in regarding the Civilta Cattolica article as infantile with innumerable unprovable generalities?
Thank you Archbishop Charles Chaput.
Please, who is this ‘main architect and financier of today’s LGBT activism,’ and where might this quote and it context be found?
Thanks for this clarity and truth, spoken in love and concern for souls. – from Dallas, TX area
Would have desired our church place more emphasis on the Gospel of Matthew and the Epistle of James than an alliance among the righteous and intollerant. Religious freedom comes from the soul of the follower and the good works done in the name of the Christ. We are on the road to Jericho. Is the better to be the Samaritan or the distracted priest? Christ gave us his answer; how ’bout yours?
I think that you are speaking the truth. Thank you for your courage and example. There are some very worrysome signs coming from Rome nowadays, and someone needs to tell people that the “emperor has no clothes”. God is in control.
While you are at it, you might notice that the “blble classes” the WH is so proud about having staff members attend is led by a nut job con man who is extremely anti-Catholic. And, for that matter, anti-American, in that he seeks to create a state-sponsored religion.
You don’t like the Pope’s message and prefer right wing political “christian-speak?” Which one is closer to Jesus’ teachings, the Pope or Trump?
Speaking of “the emperor has no clothes,” there is trump, Mr. “2 Corinthians” himself.. The same man who said, “I don’t need forgiveness. Or is the “no clothes” reall the self-afflicting twits who want to pretend trump is “godly” because you think he will give you the secular power you want?
What will Jesus say when you face him? Luke 13:27 is your answer.
It is shocking to contemplate the shallowness of clerics and prelates at the Vatican surveying the world and coming to the exact opposite conclusions that wisdom would suggest. You would think that a half century of shrinking confession lines would inspire some sad reflection about the internal moral state of Catholic life today, and how delusional many Catholics have become about their sins and how such delusions can corrupt them in the formation of their belief systems towards a secular direction.
There is not even the slightest evidence of awareness that the Church’s new obsession of exaggerated concerns of environmental catastrophe is similar to secular society having used exaggerated environmentalism as moral compensation for decades of exterminating inconvenient lives through abortion. Ridding the world of polluters can be made to seem virtuous as socialists have always believed. And Christians uniting to resist the tide of secular progressivism seems odd to Vatican intellectuals who have sold out to the world.
The more Vatican becomes swayed by the original sin of progressivism, the more moronic will be its judgments of how the world works.
Dear Archbishop Chaput,
You make truth crystal clear in such few words and with so much charity. Please know that there are many of us who are strengthened and supported by your wisdom and fearlessness. Thank you for speaking the words that I imagine Jesus would speak and that we so much need to hear from the leaders of His Church.
Thanks you so much, Archbishop Chaput! You’re an examplary shepherd. Your teachings testify to the veracity of the fact that you know Whom you’re serving (God). We (the sheep) need worthy Catholic/religious leaders in this our time, when some (unfortunately) care more about pleasing men/women and the hierarchies rather than God.
Keep feeding and caring for God’s children. May God continue to glorify His name in your life in Jesus’ name. Amen!
Thank you, Archbishop Chaput. I have been deeply concerned by the secular activists and their desire to crush and persecute orthodox Catholics, evangelicals and other Christians. Such threats make their chatter about diversity and tolerance sound utterly hollow.
Dear Archbishop Chaput,
I thought you should know how far your words reach. I live in Sydney Australia and look forward to reading your columns which are an insightful and provide faithful Catholic teaching. I have absolute confidence in what you write and in this instance you have summarized the situation very well. The West is experiencing serious civilizational decline due to the experiment of living without God. This is a huge issue with dictatorship of relativism taking hold and even reaching in and infecting our beloved church. Thank you for your courageous leadership.
Thank you, Archbishop, for your words of wisdom! God bless you!
Bishop Chaput, I admire you for your courage and I agree with everything you say. But I don’t think you will ever ever be a cardinal if you keep on saying what you are saying. Someone in the Church hierarchy does not like it. I am behind you, and I know that God is always in charge.
I agree with you. Archbishop Chaput has taken a courageous stand which he undoubtedly will pay for since the Church hierarchy does not agree with him. We are very fortunate to have an Archbishop like him who will not cowkow to the upper hierarchy when it comes to faith and morals. He probably won’t make it to Cardinal, but he serves a greater good.