Thanks to a communion controversy being clarified by the U.S. Catholic bishops and a continued insistence by President Joe Biden that his public actions are actually deeply personal matters, abortion is the issue of the day — and with it, questions of religious faithfulness.
Corporate media are teaming up with nominal Catholics to smear the faithful as bad-faith political actors, while traditional Catholics work to convince an unconvinceable political class that their deeply held beliefs, as old as the church itself, stem not from whoever is passing through the White House, but from the doctrine on which they base their entire lives and practice.
Underpinning the controversy — which culminates in whether Biden and other pro-abortion leaders should be denied communion based on their public support for the killing of unborn children, which directly conflicts with the church’s teaching — is a subconscious tug-of-war regarding the church’s moral framework: Will the church view the culture war through the gospel, or will it view the gospel through the culture war? One approach is biblical. The other is deadly.
This might sound like a distinction without a difference, but it is not. It is actually a question of opposing worldviews. One prioritizes scripture, the other social causes.
This distinction is not limited to abortion either, nor to just the Catholic Church. What believers of varying denominations use as their primary lens will determine, for instance, whether they think about the sexes. Will they think about sex through God’s prescribed roles since creation or, on the contrary, will they view God’s created order through feminism or gender theory?
Will they let the gospel influence their work lives, or will they impose their career goals on what they want to take from the gospel? Will they determine their view of marriage based on a biblical definition or on whatever John Roberts or Pete Buttigieg has to say?
The question of whether to apply the culture war to the Bible or the Bible to the culture war also isn’t a chicken-or-the-egg thought exercise. What we believe about the gospel and how it should influence our cultural decisions determines our whole worldview and has tangible ramifications. Gospel priority versus social justice priority determines how Southern Baptists think about critical race theory in Sunday School, just as it determines how Catholics and all Christians think about abortion and communion.
Media coverage of the Biden controversy reveals what exactly the different sides are prioritizing. While The Federalist’s John Daniel Davidson accurately frames the debate in terms of the faithful and the unfaithful, Biden’s defenders put politics front and center. For instance, in the New York Times last week, Jason Horowitz wrote, “The conservative American bishops” — he means “faithful” — “are largely out of step with Francis and his agenda of putting climate change, migrants and poverty on the church’s front burner.”
In other words, Horowitz’s political opponents disagree with the political aims of the politics-centric pope. This is a classic example of imposing the culture war on religious teaching, and it has saturated corporate coverage of the controversy.
The New York Times claimed the bishops are “targeting Biden.” Joy Behar on ABC’s “The View” on Monday likened the Catholic Church to the Republican Party and used her own pro-LGBT beliefs to suggest the bishops are the political actors.
One Times opinion article suggested “The Bishops Betray A Faithful President,” and another said “The Catholic Church’s Reproductive Fight Is About Controlling Women’s Freedom.” Many outlets have described Biden as “devout,” with CNN saying, “This movement is driven by the extremely conservative wing of the Catholic Church.” MSNBC framed it as the bishops taking a “provocative shot in Biden’s direction.”
Notice: In the media’s formula, Biden’s political proclivities are the starting point, and it is through them that the media views biblical teaching on communion.
Politicians are framing the debate that way too. Describing himself as “Catholic,” Rep. Ted Lieu last week said, “I support: Contraception, A woman’s right to choose, Treatments for infertility, The right for people to get a divorce, The right of same sex marriage.” The Democrat continued, “Next time I go to Church, I dare you to deny me Communion.”
To that end, Lieu and 59 other Democrats in Congress who call themselves Catholics sent a “Statement of Principles” to the bishops, insisting that “the weaponization of the Eucharist to Democratic lawmakers for their support of a woman’s safe and legal access to abortion is contradictory.”
Not only do these examples depict the faulty tendency to apply a political lens to all religious matters, but they also show an unwillingness to see through the “abortion” euphemism to the unbiblical violence it truly is. The present matter before the bishops involves an “intrinsic evil,” not merely a conscience issue or circumstantial judgment call, which helps to explain why faithful Christians object to the media’s characterization of the controversy as a political football.
“Every act with an evil moral object is intrinsically evil, and therefore always immoral, regardless of intention or circumstances,” explains the Catholic catechism. “Nothing can cause an intrinsically evil act to become moral because the act is evil by its very nature.”
Federalist Senior Contributor Margot Cleveland explained exactly why this matters:
Abortion and euthanasia, among other things, are intrinsically evil, and as Pope John Paul II explained in Evangelium Vitae, legislators intentionally supporting civil laws that authorize abortion or euthanasia, formally cooperate in those intrinsically evil acts.
Conversely, issues of economics, immigration, stewardship of natural resources, and many other legislative-policy decisions involve a lawmaker’s prudential judgments to assess the proper means to achieve a licit end. Yet, in their Statement of Principles, to defend their support of the intrinsically evil, the Democratic lawmakers point to prudential judgments of Republicans with which they disagree.
Catholics uneducated on the distinction between intrinsic evil and prudential judgments, of course will see a focus on abortion (or same-sex marriage or euthanasia), but not immigration or global warming, as contradictory and in turn the ‘weaponization of the Eucharist.’ But a properly catechized and faithful Catholic will understand and accept the distinction.
Killing the most vulnerable among us is indeed intrinsically evil; there’s no way to whitewash it, despite our culture’s best efforts. That’s why when Pope Francis said the church should be a “home for all” — criticizing faithful Catholics for being “obsessed” with same-sex relationships, contraceptives, and even abortion because firmness on these absolutes doesn’t comport with his feel-good diplomacy — he sacrificed gospel purity for political expediency.
The result isn’t a more godly and unified church. It is a political club that cherrypicks doctrine to form its own religion. Instead of rehearsing unadulterated Bible truth in declarative statements about what God himself has ordained — as the Nicene Creed does, for example — the nominal Catholic political club channels the rhetorical schemes of the serpent to cast aspersions on deeply held truth with questions of “Did God really say…?” In shrewd turns of phrase, it snares the weak and gullible into believing that the father of lies is actually the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
I once heard a worldview lecture by Dr. Del Tackett in which he explained the crucial responsibility of Christians to recognize when the “is” isn’t the “ought” — in other words, when the real state of things isn’t what it should be. This distinction can be illustrated by the gauges of a plane, which reveal to a pilot regardless of his visibility or sense of position what actually “is.”
In order to safely maneuver, he must know the “oughts” of aviation so he can correct when he gets off course. If he fails to apply the way things ought to be to the way they are, he risks a fiery death for himself and those under his care.
Faithful Christians informed first by God’s Word know what “ought” to be, regardless of the changing political winds that now embrace child sacrifice as an acceptable “is.” Of course, human beings, made up of both the physical and the spiritual, will always battle politically even as we engage in spiritual warfare.
But faithful believers must recognize our duty to let the truth dictate the culture war, not the other way around. In educating Catholics on the role of the Eucharist and preserving its sanctity, that’s exactly what the bishops are trying to do.