September 21, 2017
In light of recent events, IPS Dean Brian Schmisek penned an opinion piece reflecting on the rising sentiments of racism and sexual assault we are seeing in the national discourse.
Add your thoughts to the discussion below.
By Brian Schmisek
60. That number is the percent of white Catholics who voted for President Trump, the candidate who admitted to the behavior of a sexual predator and appealed openly to racism. Even a leader of his own party said his words were the “textbook definition of a racist comment.” Now that the election is over and we are in the first year of the Trump administration, will the USCCB be calling for a ‘fortnight of freedom’ for women, immigrants, and minorities? Or will the focus remain on “religious liberty” and the contraceptive mandate? Those on the right claim the Supreme Court vacancy was the crucial factor in electing Trump. Does this grand prize, Gorsuch on the bench, excuse or at least rationalize the behavior of the chief executive? Though there are many things to critique about a Trump administration, this troubling number, 60, deserves attention from US Catholics for what it says about us.
Since the 1980s many quarters of Catholic leadership, including some US Bishops, reduced the pro-life issue to abortion, saying it was so beyond the pale that any candidate who openly supported a pro-choice position was thereby ineligible for consideration for elected office by Catholics. About ten years ago, some bishops claimed it was the defining moral issue of the last thirty-five years. Many bishops spoke about denying communion to such politicians, and the fervor increased with each election year. Even if this was never the official position of the USCCB, many thought leaders in conservative Catholic circles argued for that position and it took deep root in the hierarchy and among many of the faithful.
Now, while the US Catholic hierarchy and their conservative allies were focused on that issue, we have elected a President who denigrated entire classes of people based on race, and admitted to, even bragged about sexual assault. Apparently, as 60% of the white Catholic vote indicates, these were not disqualifying factors. In fact, According to the Pew Research Center, Trump received a greater percentage of the votes of white Catholics than any other candidate, Republican or Democrat, in at least 20 years. Indeed, from another more recent study by Pew, comes this startling line: “And among white Catholics – as with white evangelicals – those who attend religious services at least once or twice a month are more approving of Trump’s job performance than are white Catholics who attend Mass less often (61% vs. 44%).”
This overwhelming support from churchgoers seems to be a clarion call that something is wrong with our priorities. There is a problem with the way we are educating and catechizing our people when a blatant racist empowering alt-right groups, neo-Nazis, and other fringe elements receives 3 out of 5 votes from white Catholics, and stronger approval from Mass attending Catholics than not. Trump’s cultivation of support from these extreme groups was mocked in a spoof commercial of “Racists for Trump” on Saturday Night Live, but after a marked increase in hate crimes and violence from what he has unleashed, the stakes have been raised. We need to take a closer look at our role and ourselves as Catholics in this unique time.
Rather than seek to remove the splinter of the contraceptive mandate from the eye of the Affordable Care Act, the bishops would do better to remove the log from their own and that of their flock. Though it pains me and even shames me to say it, that log is latent, pernicious racism, and the minimization of sexual assault among the white Catholic faithful. That log is excusing behavior we would not accept in our children to achieve a seat on the Supreme Court with the hope of ending the contraceptive mandate.
Immediately I can hear the reply that elections are complicated affairs with a variety of issues at stake; white Catholics are not racists and do not minimize sexual assault. I would like to agree. But the election results and the racial divisions it exposed should cause us to reconsider. Where were the letters from US bishops that seem to have been so plentiful in previous presidential cycles? When a candidate is so openly racist and misogynistic, might he have been disqualified from consideration by followers of Jesus who claim to love their neighbor?
The fact that a majority of white Catholics thought such a vote acceptable means there is much work to do, more leadership needed from our bishops. For example, the USCCB might devote at least as much energy to eradicating racism and the trivialization of sexual assault as they do the contraceptive mandate. There is much in Scripture about hospitality, treatment of the other, the stranger, the alien, the immigrant, the widow, and the orphan. It says nothing about a contraceptive mandate. Some bishops have even been ahead of the curve and already spoken about these issues. For example, one of the few African American bishops, Bishop Braxton, published a Text and Study Guide on the topic. This is part of a solid foundation on which to build.
The election of Trump has seen fathers deported, families torn apart, mothers separated from their children, and policies called ‘inhumane’ and ‘contrary to the values of the country and its legal system,’ by at least one federal judge. Hate crimes are increasing; as is violence against minorities. Closeted racism, never locked away tightly, has emerged with a frightening boldness. The free press is threatened; truth itself is under assault with alternative facts and propaganda “news.” A ‘meanness’ and viciousness drives this administration that tears at the fabric of society, and the meaning of truth itself. It’s as though Trump is echoing the words of Pilate, “What is truth?” The contraceptive mandate and the creation of a permanent committee for religious freedom seems to be among the least of our concerns, akin to chasing windmills in the storm of racism and assault.
Was the election of a bigot and braggadocios predator worth a seat on the Supreme Court? Have we given the modern equivalent of 30 pieces of silver for that one vote? If so, there is nothing we can do now but run into the darkness and weep, hoping against hope that at some future resurrection we as a church will be forgiven by a Risen Christ who will embolden us with the command issued three times: feed my sheep. Then, the church will experience a rebirth with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit as at Pentecost. On that day, our priorities will reflect Jesus, his commands and his mission. We will welcome the stranger, protect the widow and the orphan, and love our neighbor as Christ loves us.