Election reflection on three who opposed Obama

By Michael Humphrey

For the past year I have been focused on the 2008 presidential election and especially on the Republican Party’s role in it. I covered the Republican National Convention and wrote several other stories involving conservatism, Catholicism and this historic race, all for the National Catholic Reporter.

It has been a memorable experience. Watching a seminal election such as this through the lens of the losing ticket comes with its own subplots. I got the sense in all of my conversations that Republicans were pressing against the force of inevitability. I watched messages that once had firepower doused in the wave of a spiraling economy and the promise of change. This was definitely the case for those Republicans pressing for Catholic votes.

It is impossible when covering Catholicism and elections not to address the issue of abortion. So many of the Catholic conservatives I spoke with at the convention and elsewhere pointed to abortion as the core reason for their support of John McCain, though none stated it as the only reason.

It would be easy to paint these people with a broad brush, but it would also be wrong. They represent a wide spectrum of human inclinations. Three examples from the past election – each with local ties and a national voice, each opposing Roe v. Wade and each considered heroic by some and controversial by others – provide insight into just how vast that spectrum can be.

The first example is United States Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.). During the convention week, I found him at a breakfast meeting in a downtown St. Paul hotel and he was readily willing to do an interview. We spoke about John McCain and Sarah Palin, about the Catholic’s role in this election and, inevitably, about abortion. But he surprised me, at his own prompting, by widening the conversation.

“We have ceded the social justice message to the Democrats for too long. I want to say, (Democrats) are wrong on life and marriage,” Brownback said, “and here is our social justice agenda. We haven’t gone that distance. We’ve said, you get the social justice agenda, we get the life and marriage agenda. And I’m pushing at this cloth of being pro-life and whole life, and that applies to the immigrant, the person in prison, to those is poverty and those in Darfur.”

Brownback’s vision for what the Republican Party can be is a vision of hope for all who care about peace and justice issues. And more importantly, in the person of Sam Brownback, I found an honest seeker who was trying to bring that inward debate to his role as a legislator.

The second example is Randall Terry, who founded Operation Rescue in Wichita and continues to fight on several fronts to end abortion in America. Late in the election, Terry mobilized hundreds of people in key battleground states to pass out fliers at churches and Wal Marts that essentially stated it was against Catholic teaching to vote for Barack Obama. There were questionable tactics, especially making the flier he passed out to Catholics look very similar to the Church’s official brochure on Faithful Citizenship. He and several of his volunteers were arrested, because they trespassed on parish properties to disseminate the tracts.

In a series of phone calls, I spoke with Terry about his strategy. He was open and honest about his intentions. He made it clear that he was being true to his calling and that he would not apologize for it.

“I recognize in many people’s minds we are skating on thin ice,” Terry said to me, “but so was St. Thomas More and St. Catherine of Siena, and many prophets who spoke the truth when it wasn’t sanctioned.”

This is the same philosophy that has sent many people to the streets and jails to peacefully protest what they see as atrocities. Agree with him or not, no one can argue that his nonviolent attempts to sway voters is part of a long tradition of American dissent that has mostly enriched our country.

The third example was not part of my reporting. Like most of us, I was simply a consumer of the news when Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn told a radio talk show host that by voting for Obama, “you make yourself a participant in the act of abortion and you mustn’t do it because your eternal salvation is tied up with that important choice.”

When I think of the other men I’ve mentioned, I think of people who are blending their points of view with their self-chosen roles in our society. Bishop Finn would also make an excellent activist, unencumbered by the heavy duties laid upon him as bishop, but the statement he made about Obama is deeply troubling for a pastor to make.

At the bishops’ fall meeting last week, Bishop Blase Cupich of Rapid City, S.D. stated, “A prophecy of denunciation quickly wears thin. We need a prophecy of solidarity with the communities we serve and the nation we live in, which needs healing. We must be, and be seen to be, caring pastors as well as faithful teachers.”

Alas.

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1 Comment »

  1. Joe Bayless said

    Brownback, Terry, and Finn come to their “positive” disagreement with Obama by way of the abortion issue. I come to my support of Obama by way of the need of America in this postmodern era to become an honest broker in the world of the future. He appears much more willing to share in dialogue, seek coalitions in the world, share power with other legitimate actors on this small space ship earth.. I think he has a better chance of helping the US enter into this new future, where we don’t (can’t) dominate or feel we much dominate most agendas. I voted for him because he shows a willingness to involve others in defining the agenda for the future. In the last months I also see him willing to face economic issues head-on. To me all things are spiritual. The worth of all persons, living, and yet unborn, involve economics, housing, health, the poor, dispossessed, roles of women, rights of immigrants, honesty, etc. Yes, abortion is important to me, as it is to Obama, so I am throwing my support behind his program of inclusiveness and dialogue with all.

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