Faith and Patriotism


Denver — The theologian Karl Barth once said, “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”

That saying comes to mind as the election approaches and I hear more lectures about how Roman Catholics must not “impose their beliefs on society” or warnings about the need for “the separation of church and state.” These are two of the emptiest slogans in current American politics, intended to discourage serious debate. No one in mainstream American politics wants a theocracy. Nor does anyone doubt the importance of morality in public life. Therefore, we should recognize these slogans for what they are: frequently dishonest and ultimately dangerous sound bites.

Lawmaking inevitably involves some group imposing its beliefs on the rest of us. That’s the nature of the democratic process. If we say that we “ought” to do something, we are making a moral judgment. When our legislators turn that judgment into law, somebody’s ought becomes a “must” for the whole of society. This is not inherently dangerous; it’s how pluralism works.

Democracy depends on people of conviction expressing their views, confidently and without embarrassment. This give-and-take is an American tradition, and religious believers play a vital role in it. We don’t serve our country – in fact we weaken it intellectually – if we downplay our principles or fail to speak forcefully out of some misguided sense of good manners.

People who support permissive abortion laws have no qualms about imposing their views on society. Often working against popular opinion, they have tried to block any effort to change permissive abortion laws since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. That’s fair. That’s their right. But why should the rules of engagement be different for citizens who oppose those laws?

Catholics have an obligation to work for the common good and the dignity of every person. We see abortion as a matter of civil rights and human dignity, not simply as a matter of religious teaching. We are doubly unfaithful – both to our religious convictions and to our democratic responsibilities – if we fail to support the right to life of the unborn child. Our duties to social justice by no means end there. But they do always begin there, because the right to life is foundational.

For Catholics to take a “pro-choice” view toward abortion contradicts our identity and makes us complicit in how the choice plays out. The “choice” in abortion always involves the choice to end the life of an unborn human being. For anyone who sees this fact clearly, neutrality, silence or private disapproval are not options. They are evils almost as grave as abortion itself. If religious believers do not advance their convictions about public morality in public debate, they are demonstrating not tolerance but cowardice.

The civil order has its own sphere of responsibility, and its own proper autonomy, apart from the church or any other religious community. But civil authorities are never exempt from moral engagement and criticism, either from the church or its members. The founders themselves realized this.

The founders sought to prevent the establishment of an official state church. Given America’s history of anti-Catholic nativism, Catholics strongly support the Constitution’s approach to religious freedom. But the Constitution does not, nor was it ever intended to, prohibit people or communities of faith from playing an active role in public life. Exiling religion from civic debate separates government from morality and citizens from their consciences. That road leads to politics without character, now a national epidemic.

Words are cheap. Actions matter. If we believe in the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, we need to prove that by our actions, including our political choices. Anything less leads to the corruption of our integrity. Patriotism, which is a virtue for people of all faiths, requires that we fight, ethically and nonviolently, for what we believe. Claiming that “we don’t want to impose our beliefs on society” is not merely politically convenient; it is morally incoherent and irresponsible.

As James 2:17 reminds us, in a passage quoted in the final presidential debate, “Faith without works is dead.” It is a valid point. People should act on what they claim to believe. Otherwise they are violating their own conscience, and lying to themselves and the rest of us.

Charles J. Chaput is the archbishop of Denver.


22 thoughts on “Faith and Patriotism”

  1. Archbishop Chaput, like so many of John Kerry’s other partisan detractors attacks Mr. Kerry by distortiing his comments and deliberately quoting them out of context, and misinterpreting them. In doing so the Archbishop joins the ranks of the Liars Club making its appearance this election season.

    As a young man John kerry questioned America’s involvement in the Vietnam war and this has been dishonestly misrepresented as an attack on his fellow soldiers.

    As a Senator John Kerry approved giving President Bush the authority to use force to pressure Saddam Hussein into letting in the UN inspectors, but later voted against the $87 billion appropriation for the war because he believed it should have been funded through tax increases on the rich and not borrowing and debt for our children. This has been deceitfully twisted into a flip-flop of first being for the war and then against it.

    Kerry has suggested raising taxes for people making over $200,00 a year in response to the staggering defificts and the potential for economic calamity they pose. This has been willfully mischaracterized as “John Kerry wants to raise your taxes.”

    John Kerry has stated he is personally opposed to abortion, but believes that abortion should be reduced by lowering the number of unwanted pregnancies. John Kerry is NOT pro-abortion; rather he has a different approach to how abortion should be reduced. I would be happier if Kerry more explicitly stated the actual measures he would introduce to reduce abortion. However the fact remains that John Kerry is not responsible for a single abortion while George W. Bush is personally responsible for thosands of deaths in an unnecessary war in Iraq.

    America has arrived at a sorry state indeed if a candidate cannot offer thoughtful and nuanced solutions to complicated issues, but is reduced instead to expressing himself through ridiculously over-simplified sound-bites for the intellectually lazy.

  2. The Archbishop’s point is that support of abortion violates Roman Catholic moral teaching. The “Cuomo defense” doesn’t fly anymore.

  3. Father Jacobse: Then I have a very important question for you. Where in a moral and ethically based process for evaluating candidates do we also consider the candidates overall competence, judgement and the outcomes of their decisions while in office?

    Do you believe:

    A) A candidates competence and performance in office doesn’t count. The only thing that matters is whether they hold the correct positions on moral issues of interest to Christians, or

    B) A candidates competence and performance in office overides consideration of their positions on moral issues of interest to Christians, or

    C) We have to carefully weigh both a candidates competence and performance and fitness in office AND their positions on moral issues of interest to Christians.

    As we look at the latest polls we see that both the approcval rating for George W. Bush and the percentage of Americans who think the nation is moving in the wrong direction are both under fifty percent. Many voters believe that certain negative outcomes like the huge deficit, America’s strained foreign relations and the quagmire in Iraq are the direct result of bad decision made by George W. Bush

    Are Christians bound to vote for candidates of whom they disapprove and believe are leading the nation in the wrong direction if those candidates espouse doctrinally correct views on a handful of moral issues?

  4. Note 3

    When you refer to America’s “strained foreign relations” whom do you have in mind?
    The French, Chinese and Russians who were taking bribes from Saddam and who have now lost their cash cow?. Despots such as the Baathist dictators in Syria and the mullahs in Iran? With whom are our relations strained?

    By the way, the President of Poland expressly referred to John Kerry’s comments about the existing coalition allies as insulting to Poland and particularly insulting to the memories of the Polish soldiers who died in combat in Iraq.
    Kerry, you see is a master diplomat.

  5. Missourian: In response to the question posed in note number 3, do you select answer A, answer B, or answer C.

  6. Here is a perfect example of what I mean when I use the word INCOMPETENCE. The New York Times is reporting that the US military knew about and failed to secure 380 tons (that’s right TONS) of high-powered military explosives that have now fallen into the hands of insurgents and terrorists.

    “Huge Cache of Explosives Vanished From Site in Iraq”,

    The explosives, mainly HMX and RDX, can “be used to produce bombs strong enough to shatter airplanes or tear apart buildings.” Iraq had these waepons stored at one specific site which it had registered with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) before the war. The IAEA had these weapons under seal and “publicly warned about the danger of these explosives before the war, and after the invasion it specifically told United States officials about the need to keep the explosives secured … Administration officials say they cannot explain why the explosives were not safeguarded, beyond the fact that the occupation force was overwhelmed by the amount of munitions they found throughout the country”

    According to

    “It is apparently widely believed within the US government that those looted explosives are what in many, perhaps most, cases is being used in car bombs and suicide attacks against US troops. That is, according to TPM sources and sources quoted in this evening’s Nelson Report, where the story first broke.

    One administration official told Nelson, “This is the stuff the bad guys have been using to kill our troops, so you can?t ignore the political implications of this, and you would be correct to suspect that politics, or the fear of politics, played a major role in delaying the release of this information.”

    Because of the repeated blunders and false hubristic assumptions of the Bush administration, a deadly insurgency was allowed to develop in Iraq and is now better equiped to kill American soldiers, which they are doing at the rate of 2 or 3 a day. And I’m supposed to reelect this bunch of incompetents because – why – they oppose gay marriage?

  7. Note 3

    Hmmm this requires more thought than I am up to right now. I have a big project I should be working on.

    One note. This decision tree has two branches. Candidate A may be unsatisfactory for many reasons, but, he has to be compared to Candidate B who may be even more unsatisfactory for even more reasons. The decision is not simply accepting or rejecting Candidate A in some theoretical vacuum.

    I do share your anger about the munitions dump. I don’t know all the facts, but, I did see apparently reliable reports early in the war that radioactive stores hadn’t been secured and local Iraqis looted radioactive material. There wasn’t the danger of bomb making so much as the danger of dispersal of low-level radition capable of causing a great deal of illness among the population.

    (Imagine sound of one person tearing clumps of hair out.)

  8. Note 3 Blunders, Going for the Throat OR Throwing Israel to the Wolves.

    We are at war. We must go for the enemy’s throat. George, competent or not, smooth or not, has evidenced a willingness to do just that. That is why Khadafi “turned state’s evidence.” This is not a business office were records are kept of employee performance and when too many demerits are entered in the employee’s folder, the employee gets fired and someone else fills in. Huge, monstrous and incredibly costly mistakes are made in war. Churchill had his Gallipoli, but, he saved Britain in its darkest hour. The question is whether we will get to the enemy’s throat and kill him. We need to kill him so that he stops killing others.

    Eveyone over the age of 8 knows exactly what Kerry will do. He will throw Israel to the wolves for the sake of false friendship from “allies” who will offer a phony goodwill for a short time, then, he will withdraw, withdraw, withdraw. This will make the deaths of our heroes meaningless.Just as in Viet Nam millions of good people who supported democracy will be liquidated by the armies of the despots. Kerry did it in Viet Nam, he knows no other way. Anyone who claims surprise at his future conduct will be disingenuous.

    We all know that don’t we? Children of the age of 8 in Iraq know that.

  9. Bush’s Decisions resulted in Afghanis voting for an elected President for the first time in their history. 8 million out of 10.8 eligible adults voted.

    When you weight Bush, remember R.A. Apple at the New York Times and his prediction of an Afghani “quagmire.”

  10. Don’t forget that what drives much of the opposition to Iraq is the belief on the left that America should not win in war. This is expressed as America *cannot* win in war (the ideological precept is couched as a political fact).

    This dynamic is grounded in the Viet Nam war. The loss in Viet Nam was a political rather than military defeat (the US lost no major battles in Viet Nam). For the left, the defeat is victory because it ostensibly proves the ideology true, thus all subsequent engagements must be defeats as well. (The warnings that Afghanistan would end in “quagmire” — a code word recalling Viet Nam — is one example.)

    A victory in wartime, especially against insurgents, will reveal that the belief is an ideological precept rather than military fact. This threatens the cultural dominance of the anti-war left and will relegate them to post WWII insignificance.

    Defensive bullwarks are being built on the left. The New York Times, in their editorial endorsement of Kerry, insisted that Kerry has a “moral core.” The importance of this claim is not whether it has any substance (it doesn’t), but that the NYT borrowed language and categories from the right. A major cultural shift is taking place.

    We may see insurgent attacks on US forces in Iraq and political attacks on Bush at home reach a fever pitch this week. Much is at stake.

  11. It is really sad that nearly every discussion on this blog becomes a discussion about Iraq. Bishop Chaput presented a well reasoned discussion on the politics of abortion and the first comment here dismisses him as nothing more than a “partisan [detractor who] atacks Mr. Kerry by distortiing his comments and deliberately quoting them out of context, and misinterpreting them.” Uh, forgive me for pointing out the obvious, but Bishop Chaput never quoted John Kerry. In fact, he didn’t even mention John Kerry.

    I knew, before anything was posted on this thread, that the Bishop’s words would be distorted into nothing more than a “partisan” attack. Isn’t it interesting that a Bishop speaking out on abortion is dismissed as “partisan”, but words on serving the poor, hungry and homeless are admonitions to do our Christian duty to our neighbor (a duty, I should add, that I most heartily agree with; how one performs that duty is where disagreement arises, but that discussion is for another time).

    John Kerry can say he is personally pro-life all he wants, but his behavior shows that he is pro-abortion, that he is for the killing of the unborn. If I said I was anti-war, but voted in favor of going to war, voted in favor of money for the military to fight a war, and spoke before the military and veterans groups saying what a great thing they were doing fighting the war and that I supported them in their execution of that war, I’d have a pretty hard time getting people to believe me that I was anti-war.

    John Kerry says he is pro-life, but votes for funding of abortions, votes against any restriction of abortion, including partial birth-abortion, and speaks before pro-abortion groups telling them that he will never act to reverse Roe v. Wade and that his litmus test for judges is that any he must hold a pro-abortion stand. Please tell me again how John Kerry is pro-life. I know the Left thinks conservatives are stupid, but do you really think that we are that stupid?

  12. They think conservatives are stupid to their own peril. The fact that discussions degenerate so quickly shows that there is not enough substance to engage the challenges from the other direction.

    (Tina Brown, who I find intelligent, interesting, and misinformed, made the same comment about conservatives on Meet the Press last night. “Republicans think they are more moral, Democrats think they are more intellectual.” This statement isn’t accurate, but a lot of people think it is true nonetheless. Brown is a great barometer of popular culture but in a way different than she thinks.)

  13. Archbishop Chaput’s ethics and morality based model for evaluating candidates is deficient because requires the voter to base his decision solely on the candidates views on a overly-narrow range of moral issues, and does not allow the voter to also include in his decision any consideration of a candidates overall competency, fitness and performance in office. His model also dictates which moral issues we are allowed to care about (abortion, gay marriage) and which ones we cannot (increasing poverty in America, death and destruction caused by the decision to launch an unnecessary war in Iraq.)

    All things being equal, we would want to vote for the candidate whose positions on moral issues most closely match our own as dictated by our faith. But Archbishop Chabot’s model doesn’t allow us to determine whether all things are equal or not, but artificially narrows the range of moral issues and performance-based information about a candidate we are allowed to consider.

    Today we have the report that the Bush administration was specifically advised before the war to secure a weapons cache of 380 tons of highly explosive material and failed to do so, Because of that failure, the explosive material is now missing and is now being used to kill American servicemen and friendly Iraqi civilians. Furthermore, a quantity of this material is missing sufficient to detonate a nuclear weapon.

    What further evidence of the total incompetence of the Bush administration do we need than their disasterous series of blunders and miscalculations in Iraq? These blunders have contributed to a dramatically deteriorating situation in Iraq, have set America back in the war against terror and made our nation less safe. But according to Archbisop Chabot I’m not allowed to think about that.

  14. Note 13

    Why doesn’t favoring abortion affect an evaluation of overall fitness in office?
    Setting aside the moral issues, a policy which favors abortion has created hugh generational imbalances. Europe does not have the young people it needs to support its aging population. This is a direct result of a pro-abortion policy. Child birth is also suppressed in societies that are cavalier about non-marital sex. Now Europe is faced with cultural extinction as it is forced to import young people from a hostile culture. Bernard Lewis believe Europe will be Islamic by the end of the century. Abortion could be the root cause, helped along by moral relativism and multi-culturalism. Tolerating non-reproductive sex doesn’t help either.

    So, the traditional moral issues regarding reproduction and the family have a very direct effect on the welfare of society.

    If traditional Christian sexual mores were in place we would not have:
    A) an epidemic of children born out of wedlock….African American boys would grow up with a father….. far fewer African American men would be in jail

    B) health costs would decrease, there would be no AIDS epidemic, no venereal disease

    C)the social security system would be in good financial shape and a cohort of young people would be available to support the older generation

    The traditional rules were developed for a reason. Liberals want to believe that traditional rules of sexual morality were designed by sexual killjoys who believed that all sex was bad and should be repressed. Amazingly, those old traditional rules have a hugely beneficial effect on society, look what happens when they are abandoned.

  15. Missourian, another factor is that abortion contributes to the depopulation of the Democratic party. You would think that self-interest alone would cause them to reevaluate their policy towards the unrestricted killing of the the unborn.

    The Empty Cradle Will Rock: How abortion is costing the Democrats voters–literally.

    A Tough Roe: Will the Democratic Party be abortion’s final victim?

    One other point. The care for the poor that Dean often cites is really no more than support of the policies that contributed to the demise of the black families that you cited. The Great Society was a catastrophic failure in many areas. Good intentions don’t excuse bad decisions.

  16. Note 16

    The Ten Commandments are “protective legislation.”

    Sorry, to sound like a droning moralizer… but we know that people open the door for trouble in their lives when they trangress God’s laws. Why shouldn’t that be the case for societies. I think the metaphor is “building your house on the sand.”

  17. Note 16


    Here is your argument:

    It is the middle of WWII. Roosevelt is doing a good job prosecuting the war, BUT, he supports abortion as a domestic policy. Weighing the catastrophe of a military defeat and the loss of millions of American and foreign lives against the loss of a smaller number of lives of unborn, you vote for Roosevelt… just to get us through the war.

    This, by the way, is Ed Koch’s argument.

    This argument only holds water if you can A) define a limited term and B) balance a large number of deaths against a smaller number of deaths.

    But this is your best bet.

  18. All issues are not equal. Whether or not one supports income redistribution in order to deal with poverty (or more simply put, stealing from the rich in order to give to the poor) is not on the same moral plain with whether or not one supports abortion.

    I am really having a hard time gettting my mind around the fact that some believe that piercing the skull of a child who is just moments away from taking that first breath is morally equivalent to a tax cut. (turn on sarcasm) Well, I guess in both cases something is being cut. Oh, OK, now I get it (turn off sarcasm).

    Look, I’m quite sure that Bishop Chaput would have some very hard words for those who support total war in the Middle East, if that was the topic he was addressing. The topic he was tackling was, once again, the politics of abortion. Perhaps, he has an editorial on the politics of military conflict in the works. But since he didn’t address that why do those commenting on what he writes have to keep bringing it up? My guess is that what Bishop Chaput is writing is simply unassailable.

    The “I’m personally opposed to abortion, but I can’t legislate my morallity ” argument is absolutely indefensible. Especially since those who take this position do legislate their morallity when it comes to many other issues such as poverty.

    I just don’t understand how one can simpy put aside unborn children’s right to life because one wants to evaluate “overall competency, fitness and performance in office”. Here’s how I read this: “I know damn well that candidate K supports unbridled abortion and will use every penny of taxpayer’s money in order to pay for abortions in the United States and abroad. But, candidate B is just too stupid, unfit and not able to do the job. I’ll take the abortion guy over the dumb guy any day of the week. And I don’t care what the bishops, priests, or faceless blog posters have to say about it. Besides candidate K talks about being pro-life, and that’s good enough for me.”

    Ok, I took some creative license with that. Those who support Kerry are much more nuanced and complex than my simple characterization allows (I can’t help being simple. I’m conservative. I tend to categorize things. You know, good & evil, right & wrong, that sort of thing.). Just ask Leftists why they support Kerry, and they’ll tell you, after they get done rolling their eyes, that this is a complex world and we need all the help we can get in order to deal with it. And then they’ll think you’re an idiot for even asking such a stupid question.

  19. Father Jacobse: Certainly you aren’t suggesting that the importance of abortion is so paramount that we should tolerate an incompetent, poorly performing President in the White House so long as he holds a pro-life position?

    I don’t want to minimize the importance of abortion as a moral issue but at some point a even a pro-life President’s performance can become so bad that he should not be allowed to continue in office. With George W. Bush I believe we have reached that tipping point.

    Life doesn’t end at birth – a President has responsibilities to those living outside the womb as well to the unborn.

    I have to tell you I’m truly frightened for the future Mr. Bush is creating for my child.

    Although weather patterns are clearly changing he has not addressed the problem of global warming or protecting the environment. Florida had three hurricanes but Japan was hit by ten typhoons this year, 4 more than the earlier record.

    The price of oil, now at $55 a barrel is climbing with no decline in sight, yet Mr. Bush has no plan to transition to alternative sources of energy. Economists say rising oil prices will trim 3/4 of a percent off GDP growth this year. Much of our petroleum dollar goes to saudi Arabia, the nation which is funding much of the insurgency against the United states in Iraq.

    The massive permamant deficits Mr. Bush has put in place seriously threaten our nation’s economy. Paul Volker, the former Federal Reserve chief, has said that they create a 75% probability of an economic crisis for the United States in the next five years.

    The terrorist threat is much greater now, after the invasion of Iraq, than it was before Mr. Bush became President. His policies have weakened moderate regimes in the middle-east that could have been our allies in the war against terror. The measures taken at home to improve homeland defense have been woefully insufficient.

    Mr. Bush has swept aside the Geneva convention and the United Nations and all the other institutions we look to to maintain international stability and international law. I shudder to think what is going to happen to the next American POWs now that the Bush administration’s legal counsel had determined that the Geneva Convention is “antiquated.”

    Our public health system in the United States is unraveling under financial pressures Mr. Bush shows no indication of wanting to address or ease. Rising health insurance rates are holding down wages and depressing job creation. Growing numbers of “working” Americans are without health coverage.

    Father Jacobse your view that I should ignore all of the above and focus on just one issue, however important, seems unreasonable.

  20. No, I just don’t accept the assumption that liberal values are self-evidently superior once abortion is taken out of the picture. I’m not into political grandstanding. I am into moral posturing even less.

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