The pulpit not the place for politics
It’s unfortunate that the Rev. Michael O’Brien, the pastor at St. Mary Catholic Church in Aspen, saw fit to counsel his parishioners on presidential politics.
O’Brien used the pulpit on at least two occasions over the weekend of Oct. 23-24 to preach about the church’s opinion on abortion rights and the issue of stem-cell research. Sen. John Kerry is on the wrong side of both issues, at least as interpreted by the leaders of the Catholic Church.
In an article earlier this year in The New York Times, O’Brien’s immediate boss, Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, said voting for a candidate like Kerry who supports abortion rights and stem-cell research is cooperating “with evil.”
One parishioner at the Sunday morning service said Rev. O’Brien’s sermon was “clearly biased” against Kerry. Another said that a number of people were visibly upset.
O’Brien’s decision to raise those specific issues just two weeks before one of the most closely contested presidential elections in American history feels like intentional meddling.
We have to ask why O’Brien waited until just two weeks before Election Day to raise these issues of great moral concern. From the outside looking in, it appears O’Brien is using his spiritual influence to sway people politically.
Religious leaders like O’Brien exercise enormous influence in many people’s lives. They have captive audiences, who rely on their wisdom and experience on very personal matters of faith.
What rankles about the good reverend’s discussion of politics is how little the topics had to do with spiritual matters in general or the faith of individual Catholics in Aspen. His focus wasn’t on the local church and its membership; instead he spent his time attending to the political views of the Roman Catholic Church and its bosses.
In using the pulpit to preach an institutional bias against a political candidate, O’Brien stepped into an arena where he has no business and arguably abused his power.
America’s founding fathers wisely saw that religion and politics are a volatile and dangerous mix. Most Americans don’t like their politicians instructing them in religious matters. And, though, it may not be written in any hallowed documents, most of us don’t like our religious leaders lecturing us on politics, either.
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