The Catholic bishops this week took a step toward denying communion to President Biden. John Carr’s insightful, 32-minute discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the Catholic Church is timely.
John worked for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for more than 20 years. Since 2013, he has led the Initiative on Catholic Social Teaching and Public Life at Georgetown University, encouraging faithful, critical reflection among thousands of people on U.S. politics and developments in the Catholic Church. John disagrees with President Biden’s policy on whether abortion should be illegal, but he has argued for years - now with backing from Pope Francis - that Catholic life and social teaching are not entirely defined by this issue.
The step that the bishops approved is to undertake a fresh study of the Eucharist. I presume that John and many other Catholics across the country will find ways to contribute to the study process, and I pray that it leads the bishops to back away from the idea of denying communion to President Biden. Even if the bishops decide that political leaders who take positions that are inconsistent with Catholic teaching should be denied communion, Biden's positions on poverty and racial justice should count for something. Biden's first major piece of legislation, the American Rescue Act, is expected to cut child poverty in half this year.
This discussion in the Catholic community is likely to have far-reaching impacts on the beliefs of many Catholics, on U.S. politics, and on the kind of nation we will be a decade from now.
The Southern Baptist Convention also made a big decision this week. By a narrow margin their annual meeting elected Rev. Ed Litton to be their next president. He is a conservative who seeks unity in the church and sees racial reconciliation as a spiritual priority. The Southern Baptist Convention is the second-largest religious body in the country, and it has been more closely connected into the Religious Right than any other church body. So this election is good news for the country as a whole. It turned out as it did partly because of the leadership of Russell Moore, who recently resigned as head of its public policy arm, and partly because lots of like-minded Baptists made the effort to attend the national church convention and cast a ballot.
It's clear that some of our nation's problems are rooted in spiritual causes - the bitter divisions in our society, for example, and persistent national neglect of racial and economic injustice. This week’s two big decisions in conservative-leaning church bodies dramatize the importance of active, Spirit-led participation in the life of our churches.
The “Poverty, God, Politics” series of webcasts and blog posts has featured a series of leaders who are influencing their religious communities at the national level - Amy Reumann among Lutherans, Galen Carey among Evangelicals, Gabriel Salguero among Latino Evangelicals, Barbara Williams-Skinner among African-American churches, and now John among Catholics.
All of them and millions of other faithful people across the country are also working to strengthen the spiritual life and community outreach of their local churches. That's where far-reaching spiritual developments are cultivated in individuals and families, and it happens partly because of the leadership of active church members. They sing in the choir, contribute money, teach Sunday School, and try to live and share their faith in daily life. They visit church friends with serious medical problems, and they volunteer and recruit others for community ministries. They support congregational discussion of social issues.
Many of the people who read this blog are working for needed spiritual and political change in a local church and in broader church structures. What we do in our own religious communities contributes to the spiritual and political changes our country so desperately needs. Church work can be spiritual balm for our wounded body politic.