The Engage Family Blog

Official Blog of The Family Policy Council of West Virginia

Has Church Separated from State?

with 3 comments

This past weekend, Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a giant leap over the ACLU’s glass wall of separation of church and state.  Speaking with the moderator on Meet the Press, Ms. Pelosi made the spurious claim:

[A]s an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time.  And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. 

It must have been above their pay grade too.  

Sensing the misunderstanding of Catholic theology, Tom Brokaw meets Ms. Pelosi where she has “studied for a long time,” saying, “The Catholic Church at the moment feels very strongly that [life] begins at the moment of conception.”  Naturally, this clarifies much for Ms. Pelosi, who answers:

I understand.  And this is like maybe 50 years or something like that.  So again, over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy.  But it is, it is also true that God has given us, each of us, a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions.  And we want abortions to be safe, rare, and reduce the number of abortions.

There you have it.  From the mouth of the Speaker of the House, abortions should be “safe, rare, and reduce[d].”  Has Ms. Pelosi become a pro-lifer?  

Hardly.  She goes on in the interview to suggest that the argument is not over the right to choose, but over the right to extend [prone to failure] contraceptives as a means of “family planning.”

Yesterday, Ms. Pelosi’s spokesman defended her comments, suggesting that Catholic teachers have debated the issue of when life begins for years.  Most notable (since she used his name in the interview) is that of St. Augustine.  Said Brendan Daly for the Speaker, 

Ms. Pelosi “fully appreciates the sanctity of family” and based her views on conception on the “views of Saint Augustine, who said, ‘The law does not provide that the act (abortion) pertains to homicide, for there cannot yet be said to be a live soul in a body that lacks sensation.'”


Members of the Catholic Church have rightly come out strongly against Ms. Pelosi’s misunderstanding of Catholic teaching.  Bishop Zubik of Pittsburgh noted that Ms. Pelosi, “stepped out of her political role and completely misrepresented the teaching of the Catholic Church in regard to abortion.”

Rev. Milewski of Seton Hall explained that Augustine was “quite clear on the immorality of abortion as evil violence, destructive of the very fabric of human bonds and society.”

But, it was Rev. Thomas Reese of the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University who really caught my attention when he observed,

“It is a big mistake for politicians to talk theology.” 

Hold on to that nugget.  We’ll come back to it in a moment.  But first, let’s complete the circle of how this relates to West Virginia.

This morning, the Rev. Albert Mohler entitled his post, “When Conscience and Medical Practice Collide.”  It is a thoughtful examination of whether a physician ought to be given the right to object to an immoral practice or be compelled to violate his conscience in his practice of medicine.  

As I read Rev. Mohler’s comments, I began to think of the failure of the West Virginia Legislature to protect rights of conscience.  In last year’s session, a bill was debated (and ultimately failed) that would have permitted Pharmacists to opt-out of dispensing the “morning after” pill if their conscience so dictated.  Pharmacists join doctors, and some nurses, who must choose medicine over religious freedom.  

Is it a big mistake for doctors to talk theology too?

In some sense, I find agreement with Rev. Reese’s comment that politicians should not “talk theology.”  But, there is much I disagree with that as well. 

In the first sense, I agree that when a politician (Ms. Pelosi, case in point) claims theological knowledge, but fumbles at the most basic theological point, it is the better course of wisdom to close one’s mouth.  Lincoln’s admonition is appropriate, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

The disagreement comes in when the worlds of theology and politics are deemed circles that ought never intersect.  I suggest that there is much wisdom in allowing theology to impact politics, though politics ought never impact theology.

That is the proper understanding of so-called “separation of church and state.”  It is not that one’s worldview and theological acumen ought to fall from one’s shoulders as soon as he or she dons the mantle of a politician.  Nor ought the policies of our government be hermetically sealed off from Judeo-Christian thought.  Indeed, it is because there has been a bleaching of theology from the halls of Congress that we find ourselves having to debate an obvious point: pre-born humans are entitled to human rights.

Yet there exists a disconnect that, sadly, manifests every time Sunday turns into Monday.  We live our lives in a constant dichotomy, almost roboticly segregating what we believe from what we do.  Has anyone stopped to ask if this is wise?  

Indeed, the State has separated itself from all hallmarks of the Church.  But are we now to the point that the Church has separated from the State?  

Will we soon hear reported, “It is a big mistake for theology to speak to politicians?”


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Written by Jeremy Dys

August 28, 2008 at 2:43 pm

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