This election cycle has seen its share of incivility, name-calling, insults, lies, and crudeness. It’s not a stretch to say that it’s brought out the worst in many people. Whether it’s the Wikileaks emails revealing corruption, bigotry, and arrogance from the Hillary camp, or the leaked video tapes (and outright public comments) from Trump displaying misogynistic, narcissistic, and immature behavior it is clear that the 2016 election has been better suited for a Jerry Springer episode than the selection process for the leader of the free world. A simple survey of Facebook posts and comments shows how deeply divided our nation is, and how winning political points is more important than the methods used to get there.
This all reached a new low on the eve of the election when Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life posted two videos (one on Facebook, one on YouTube) in which he displayed the body of a child killed during a second trimester saline abortion on an altar while delivering a political speech urging people to vote for Trump and the Republicans. (I’m not going to post a link to either video as it is too disturbing.)
After a wave of negative reactions Fr. Pavone has essentially doubled down on his position by deflecting blame to abortionists and Democrats while attacking or belittling his critics. For Fr. Pavone, the atrocity of abortion is so great, and the need for political victory so desperate, that his action is completely justified. In his view, crudely displaying a child’s naked body on an altar dedicated for sacred use to deliver a political speech pales in comparison to the evil of abortion. In other words, the ends justify the means.
This kind of thinking and acting is never morally acceptable. Suppose a fictional Priest Against Porn ministry wanted to drive home the importance of standing against pornography. They reason that perhaps many are ambivalent about porn because they haven’t seen it or been exposed to how graphically disordered it can be, so they decide to post a video of their leader speaking against pornography while in the foreground a naked woman gyrates provocatively. Would this be okay? What if they were taking a stand against sexual violence so they displayed a woman who had just been raped, still weeping and shaking. Would the seriousness of standing against rape justify the exhibition of a victim?
Abortion is a great moral evil, a sin that cries out from our blood soaked land for justice. It is a legal, state-sponsored holocaust that has claimed the lives of millions of children. Abortion is, as St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “the greatest destroyer of love and peace” in the world. But, abortion is not our nation’s greatest sin, nor is it our greatest spiritual struggle. It is only a symptom, a natural consequence of a much deeper, much graver depravity.
We are guilty of and in bondage to idolatry.
I am not just speaking of our secular, hedonistic culture. I’m talking about those who claim the name of Christian. Survey after survey often shows little difference in the moral behavior of believers vs. non-believers. Our national religion is the adoration of the Self. Pride was the original sin and it continues to plague us today, individually and communally.
We have turned from God and towards ourselves. We seek only that which brings pleasure, confirms our biases, and keeps us comfortable. College campuses today promote “safe spaces” free of offensive words, thoughts, or actions; and they are often mocked and criticized for it. In reality, we have all created our own safe spaces in which we insulate ourselves from the call of Christ to “be transformed” rather than conformed to this age.
Jesus stands and calls us to follow, and that implies that we must leave our lives, or dreams, our desires behind. He calls us out of our selves, in fact, he calls us to die to our selves. As Dietrich Bonheoffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” This death to the self brings ultimate freedom and joy. It liberates us not only from our self-centered desires, but also from our fears through abandonment to Christ. He calls us out from the world around us into a new order, a new Kingdom.
This political season has been a challenging one for those called by Christ to follow him. In truth, the Christian life does not easily fit within any earthly political system, and never has. The choice presented to us, what one 60 Minutes focus group called a choice between “the liar and the lunatic”, has caused many well-intentioned Christians to say and do some very out of character things. Those opposed to Clinton’s rapid pro-abortion position have found themselves in the unenviable position of supporting and defending Trump just because he claims to be “pro-life”.
This brings me back to the morally repugnant stunt that Fr. Pavone is trying to justify. I believe Fr. Pavone is motivated out of a true desire to see an end to the holocaust of abortion. I believe that he really believes that what he’s doing is necessary, right and effective. However, I wonder if this isn’t a fearful act of idolatry, of placing hope and trust in a man (Trump), or a party (Republicans), or a system (politics) rather than trusting in God. Is this just playing down to the level of your adversary? Is it morally compromising in hopes of gaining a political win? What does it profit a man (or a country) to win an election but loose his soul?
I saw a meme that said, “The problem with the election is that one of them is going to win.” So true. Today we will elect the most unpopular presidential candidate ever. Tomorrow half the nation is going to feel defeated, cheated, confused, and scared. Regardless of who wins, our nation is going to be confronted with serious issues from terrorism to the economy to the treat of war to moral and religious social challenges. As Christians we must remember that Christ is our King and heaven our homeland. We need to earnestly pray for the blessing and conversion of whoever wins the election. I close with the advice of St. Paul to St. Timothy (remember who the political leaders were when this was written):
“First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” – 1 Timothy 2:1-4