Saturday, November 15, 2008

Crossing The Line

I think it's time we revisited the issue of tax-exemption for the Roman Catholic Church:
A Catholic priest in South Carolina has decided that the democratic act of casting a vote is, in some cases, a mortal sin. Therefore, he has decided that parishioners who voted for Barack Obama are not entitled to the grace of Jesus Christ through communion until they've done penance.


Newman is denying communion not to those who have conducted or received an abortion, and not to those who enact laws that allow for abortion, but to those who cast a vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights. In effect, he's saying that thinking is now mortal sin. He's saying that having an opinion is a mortal sin. He's saying that freedom of speech and thought is a mortal sin.

This is not just about Father Newman. Since this reflects, in sum, the teaching of the Roman Church from Pope Ratzinger on down, it seems to me that we should not just consider the issue of this one congregation's tax exempt status. This blatant foray in to narrow partisan politics is a clear, prima facie case of the breach of the wall between church and state.

If Fr. Newman, and any other priest, minister, bishop, or whatever leader of whatever church, wishes to make partisan political stances a matter of theological import, that is certainly his right. If one wishes to play this game, however, there are consequences that should follow upon it. I have nothing against the Roman Church - or any other church for that matter - speaking out on public issues. When a church crosses the line from policy advocacy to distinct partisan preferences, the solution is quite clear. Tax exempt status is not a right, and I have no problem revoking it - on any church whatsoever - that crosses the line.

Virtual Tin Cup

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