Question: How does one date a church? When the cornerstone was laid? When it was…
For those at the top of the ticket, what difference do churches make?
One commentator says that this year’s national candidates “embody the future of American religion.”
“Stop judging,” said the Lord (Mt 7:1). Without judging anyone’s conscience, what are the declared beliefs, religious practices and religious history of the candidates?
Their views and past experiences are quite different, but taken together, they indeed reveal what American religion of all expressions has become: intensely personal and individual. Institutional religion increasingly plays a secondary role or no role at all. Affiliation with a given denomination is incidental. Going to churches for formal worship and instruction is becoming the exception not the rule. Pick and choose. Take it or leave it. What difference do churches make?
Once members of the Catholic Church accepted Church teachings as divine in origin, spiritual necessities in finding and knowing God, and in following Christ. For that matter, Protestants felt the same about their churches, and Jews saw God’s presence in their tradition.
That day has gone. With it is going a sense of any overall standard of right or wrong, true or false. Personal conviction always has been critical in authentic religious devotion, but people saw religious institutions as reliable guides to follow. No more.
It is not simply about 2020’s candidates or the future. It is American religion here and now. No reversal is in sight.
Maybe the good news is that outright atheism, or agnosticism, at least expressly stated, is not yet dominant in America, as it is in other places. Be prepared, however.
Religious fervor has rarely characterized the presidency. The last century saw seventeen presidents. Only John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter went to church every Sunday, but most presidents claimed membership in given churches, although several did not.
President Donald Trump is active in no church. When he rarely attends church, any denomination seemingly will do. Two of his wives were baptized as Catholics. Neither ever practiced. He supports some policies in accord with Catholic thought — abortion, for example — but not every Catholic, or Catholic authority, likes all his decisions.
Born and bred a Catholic, former Vice President Joe Biden attended Catholic schools. His first wife, killed in an automobile accident, was a Catholic. He and she were married in the Church. After her death, he married another Catholic, in a Catholic ceremony. He reared his children as Catholics. He identifies himself as a practicing Catholic. He goes to Mass.
His views about abortion are a problem. He states that he accepts, explicitly as “de fide,” Catholic teaching that abortion destroys innocent human life, but he says that he cannot legislatively impose this view on a society that respects all opinions, and in which obtaining an abortion is a constitutional right. This argument hardly impresses every Catholic, but it appeals to many.
As he notes, his “pastor, bishop and the Holy Father” give him Communion. True, but moments may arise in days ahead. Biden advocates Catholic positions in other matters, but not all.
Vice President Mike Pence is from a solidly Catholic family. He was an altar server, much involved in his parish. In college, he left the Church, becoming an evangelical Protestant, as he is today. He is not married in the Church. His wife, and their children, are Protestants.
He is against legal abortion, but he opposes other stands taken by the Catholic Church.
Catholic outrage once doomed politicians who left the Church, especially to join another. Pence has not faced this reaction.
Democratic vice presidential nominee, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, (D.-California), associates herself with a Baptist church in Oakland, California. In her youth, she attended Fundamentalist Protestant churches and a Hindu temple. Little is known about her husband’s religious practice. Outspokenly pro-abortion and pro-same gender marriage, her thinking about freedom of religion worries some Catholics, but she opposes capital punishment and favors immigration and racial policies advocated by the Catholic Church.
Bottom line: What difference do churches make?
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain.