Pray Tell Gets Political. Did I Cross A Line?

I posted this at Facebook, with a link to this story:

An ex-CIA chief (yes! from the CIA!) had it in him to issue these words. Now bishops and Christian leaders need to speak up. Not just ‘we condemn any form of blah blah blah,’ but get to the point and pick wording that will go viral. How about this? “No Catholic Christian can support the racist comments of the POTUS.” Period. You have to know how to reach your audience and get your point across. It’s called the New Evangelization, yes?

Then, with a bit of hesitation because I knew I was going into uncharted territory, I re-posted it also at Pray Tell’s Facebook page.

A Pray Tell reader – and one who greatly supports PT, be it noted – shot this message to me:

Like how it’s a political blog now :p

I replied thusly:

OK, it’s over the line, but dammit, liturgy is about justice and this one is pretty clear-cut. Not one GOP will defend him. This isn’t just politics and it’s not just getting political. This is liturgy, and theology, and Christianity.

I’m serious about that.

Being nonpartisan cannot possibly mean that we can’t speak what we believe is God’s will because it is closer to one party than another.

Anyone who says what Trump did will get this treatment at Pray Tell – whether it’s DFL or GOP or Greens or whatever.

It’s pretty important to me, as a monk and someone in ordained ministry and a member of a theology faculty, to be nonpartisan. People who know my thinking well know that it’s not always easy to know my thinking. I expect a wide variety of people would be surprised at what I do in the voting booth. And at who all I cannot vote for in good conscience as a Christian.

My rule of thumb is that I should be hesitant, because of everything of which I’m a representative, to speak against any political figure unless I’m pretty sure that it’s a Gospel demand and would be recognized as such by any faithful Catholic of any political party.

My read is that we’re in such a situation in the U.S. And hence the post I shared at Pray Tell. Maybe I’m mistaken.

Over the line? What do you think?


This post has been revised to reflect that the views are the author’s and not necessarily those of the Editorial Advisory Committee.





  1. 1) I think that many of your readers will agree with your statement.
    2) I don’t think that matters. I was shocked to see your post on Facebook, and I hope I never see another one like it. Yes, you crossed the line. Please don’t do it again.

    1. I thought that your post was perfectly appropriate and did not cross any line. How can any preacher of the gospel not address these issues in the Sunday homily? This is not extraneous to our reflections on worship, but at the heart.

    2. I thought it was fine, Anthony. The relationship between liturgy and justice is intrinsic; they cannot be separated. Unfortunately it is virtually impossible for a just person to be non-partisan these days. Thank you for your service.

  2. Yes, Anthony, you crossed a line, as did all the prophets and Jesus himself. The Gospel is political. Liturgy is subversive. Discipleship is costly. Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew this. Oscar Romero knew this. Martin Luther King knew this. Either preach like it’s a Death-defying act, or get out of the pulpit.

  3. “How can any preacher of the gospel not address these issues in the Sunday homily?”

    There are a lot of people who feel that way about abortion. And there have been Catholic clergy who manage to preach about abortion nearly every week. If you ask them why, they’ll tell you things like, “liturgy is about justice.” And, “the times we live in are not normal.” And yet, if you ask parishioners what they think about those homilies, a lot of them roll their eyes. That doesn’t mean they’re anti-abortion. It just means that their tolerance for hearing about this stuff is not very high.

    I think I preach more about social justice topics than anyone else in our parish. And I can tell you that there is a large percentage of people who, when they hear any social justice topic preached, filter it through their political lens. Some people love it for political reasons; some people hate it for political reasons. Some people receive it as it as offered, as a social justice concern.

    If any of us preach this Sunday about Charlottesville and the president’s idiotic statements (and the readings assigned for this Sunday certainly seem to offer the preacher the opportunity to make that connection), then regardless of what we say or how we say it, a lot of our parishioners will hear, “He’s a Democrat”. A lot of others will hear, “He hates Republicans”. Whether that’s good, bad, or just part of the cost of preaching, I guess all of us need to discern individually. I just want to note that preaching politics from the pulpit (whether or not politics is what’s intended) results in discontents. Our social justice messages are not universally received as offered. And frankly, in some cases, what’s offered from the pulpit isn’t always as non-partisan as it could be.

    I’m supposed to preach this Sunday. I’d expected to focus on immigration, as I think it connects better with the Gospel passage for this Sunday. And frankly, I think immigration is a bigger issue around here than white…

  4. I’m still getting used to posting comments on the new site. The old site permitted us to edit our own comments. Is that function still available? I’m not seeing it.

    In the previous comment, I had written, regarding parishioners who roll their eyes at preachers who constantly preach about abortion, “That doesn’t mean they’re anti-abortion.”. I should have written, “That doesn’t mean they’re pro-abortion.”

    1. It’s more cumbersome in the redesign. You have to exit the thread and go back in. Another mystery of reduced functionality.

  5. If you have to ask, you probably have. You can both justify and rationalize it. But the next question will be: where is your new line, and why?

    I would suggest to step back and ask: why did you *really* need to cross the line here? What’s that about, really? Where you *really* “evangelizing here with that? Or were you, subconsciously, virtue-signalling? (Or, as is often the case in these situations, both?) Then engage “Really?” at least a few more times – a technique in coaching where people learn to detach from the narratives they too quickly embrace about their decisions.

    To bottom-line this: *Who’s* Good News are we evangelizing? What happens when we can detach from diverting our egoism into novelization? I suspect what happens is that our evangelization becomes both simpler and starker, much more to the point but also utterly freed of the ego need to be validated. In other words, it becomes truly a sacrifice of ourselves.

    So, was this that?

    That’s not a rhetorical accusation at all, but merely a suggested self-inventory. They are the very same questions I ask myself when I do similar things.

    (And, to avoid misunderstanding, I probably have to offer the requisite “azza” statement: I write this as someone who agrees in substance with the point.)

  6. Thank you – tough but needed.
    Suggestion – the preacher, leader and community members must always evaluate the world through our faith lense. That means that our faith community is *political* (period) but we are not *partisan*. Your comment was directed at a specific leader’s content – you did not condemn an individual, a specific party, you did not choose sides.
    Even Francis has reminded us that the church is *political* – and then explained that using Aquinas and Augustine.

  7. Preaching social issues, especially through the lens of the Scripture readings for the day is fine and maybe even called for. But I find it difficult to read liturgy is about justice. Liturgy is the worship of God. God is justice.

    I hear week-in and week-out: “therefore, with angels and archangels, cherubim and likewise seraphim, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name, evermore praising thee and saying.” That’s not justice, that’s praise. That’s liturgy.

    1. My thoughts exactly John K. – Liturgy is about praising God, not justice. In my opinion that is the line that was crossed, not a political one.

      I’m used to seeing political views expressed on all sorts of blogs/websites/sportscasts, so it’s not an issue to see things like that discussed here, especially if one anticipates a homily linked to the readings that reflects the world around us. I appreciate “difficult” homilies, and believe we don’t hear enough of them, at least in my experience. So bring on homilies that explain/reinforce/illuminate both cultural and especially, “counter-cultural” Church teaching, especially when it lines up with the Gospel.

      1. There are two ends of liturgy: “for the salvation of the world and for the glory of his name” (Catechism 1066),”redeeming mankind and giving perfect glory to God” (Catechism 1067), “refers not only to the celebration of divine worship but also to the proclamation of the Gospel and to active charity” (Catechism 1070).

  8. I urged all in my homily to roundly condemn racist and hate groups like the white supremacists, neo-nazis, and any others who resort to violence while claiming a right to free speech. I did not make any reference to the president’s remarks on Saturday since the media and politicians were already interpreting his comments to infer that he was a racist and hater or at least was giving them aid and comfort by not denouncing them by name. To have done so would clearly have crossed over a line. I had no business as a priest publicly adding my voice to those who had shifted attention away from the hate-filled perpetrators and their actions to focus on a statement of the president of the United States which they deemed as either inadequate or sympathetic. Doing so involves a judgment of the heart and an interpretation of his words that may or may not be warranted. While there is so much to dislike about the president’s character, tone, and policies, I am called upon nonetheless to pray for him. For heavens sake, I even asked people recently to pray for the North Korean president in the hopes that he might be opened to conversion of heart. Does that mean I am sympathetic to his threats? Or, that I am engaging in “moral equivalency”? As another commenters remarked, the folks in the pews hear what we say at least in part through the lens of their political beliefs. Watch out for the “third rail”.

  9. So many German religious leaders were too polite or complicit to cross the line. We should remember how that turned out. Catholics of all people should remember the lessons of history. I don’t think it’s Anthony Ruff who crossed the line. And seriously, is there a difference between the political line and the liturgical line?

  10. As I thought about your question, my mind immediately thought of Catherine of Sienna (and many other saints) who was far from nonpartisan. She/they spoke their minds even in the midst of political intrigue. You may be getting some verbal flack for posting your thoughts but they were putting their lives on the line for speaking the Gospel and dedicating themselves to prophetic truth.
    Your comments about liturgy and justice are exactly true.
    Whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done it to me.

    1. But what is the liturgical connection in Catherine of Siena’s case?

      My initial thought about liturgy and civil rights* is that the black churches would be a model for us to emulate, or at least consider. Certainly, they were in the forefront of the actual civil rights movement. Today, some of them tend to engage in considerably more overtly political activity than the typical white Catholic parish does – for example, by inviting favored political candidates to preach at Sunday morning services. Is that problematic? Those churches arguably are flouting the tax-exemption laws that are supposed to prohibit churches from political advocacy. There is little appetite to prosecute those churches and their leaders. I suppose folks here agree? I do.

      * Supposing, for the sake of discussion, that the events in Charlottesville had anything to with civil rights beyond the right of the Charlottesville citizens, through their elected representatives, to determine what statuary should adorn its public spaces, and the right of white nationalists to assemble and speak publicly. Those are civil rights, but the term “civil rights” in common parlance typically isn’t short-hand for those particular rights.

  11. I am saddened and shocked that some still see liturgy as having no connection to justice, as if right relationship or right worship is not a prerequisite of the other.

    Have we forgotten Amos? “I hate, I despise your feasts, I take no pleasure in your solemnities. Even though you bring me your burnt offerings and grain offerings I will not accept them;…Rather let justice surge like waters, and righteousness like an unfailing stream.” (5:21-22, 24)

    Or Isaiah? “When you spread out your hands, I will close my eyes to you; Though you pray the more,
    I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood! Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.” (1:15-17)

    Or even Pope John Paul II? “We cannot delude ourselves: by our mutual love and, in particular, by our concern for those in need we will be recognized as true followers of Christ. This will be the criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations is judged.” (Mane nobiscum Domine, 28)

    We cannot separate praising God and doing justice. We praise God *by* doing justice (ie, “Go, glorify God by your lives”), and we do justice *by* praising God (ie, “Lift up your hearts. It is right and just”).

    1. I couldn’t agree more!

      Our reason to praise God includes praising him for his justice. In his justice he rightly condemned sin, and in his mercy he spared us through the sacrifice of his Son.

      Christ now reigns as Lord of all creation, and the kingdom he is inaugurating is one that includes justice. The Preface of Christ the King speaks of it as, “a kingdom of justice, love and peace.”

  12. Elie Wiesel: “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Whenever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the centre of the universe.” (1986 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech)

    Diana Macalintal puts it very well. “We cannot separate praising God and doing justice. We praise God *by* doing justice (ie, “Go, glorify God by your lives”), and we do justice *by* praising God (ie, “Lift up your hearts. It is right and just”).” Thank you, Diana for this powerful reminder from the very words of our liturgy.

    And I would add: Perhaps Anthony did cross a line. If so, it is a line that every last one of us who calls ourselves Christian has crossed already by virtue of our initiation into the crucified and risen Jesus – because the risen one has crossed that line before us. Whatever is done to the least is done to him. Empowered by HIS Spirit, we, members of his mystical body, offer God praise and thanks through, with and in him on whose body the marks of his unjust, vicious death are clearly visible. Perhaps we think we have the option of crossing that line. We don’t. Initiation into Christ has already placed us in solidarity with the poor and oppressed. The question of where God was during the Holocaust has been answered: in the camps, with those who were being murdered and tortured, starved, and burned alive.

    Crossing that line makes us very vulnerable – because it’s not crossing back and forth over a border – once crossed, it’s a life commitment from which there is no turning back.

    1. KUDOS – excellent statement.

      Liturgy/Eucharist means mission – thus social justice. Too many clerics/bishops/parishes enable what I call *service station models* with sacramental services but no focus on what the eucharist shared by the common faith community means; its purpose – which is to go on mission. We do not do liturgy as a form of navel gazing. Suggest that some of the VII and liturgy revisionism (reform of the reform) has to do with misunderstanding that eucharist is directed at mission.

  13. Oh, I am sure that some will say it is over the line, and much like commercial ads for products (“New! Improved! Best____ you can buy!”) one can discount a lot of political speech as what an old English Court called ‘puffery’.

    Unfortunately, we have gotten to a point where we are in danger of fulfilling Edmund Burke”s prophecy about good men who do nothing. You have my support Father. Prayers, too.

  14. Dear Anthony,

    What is the point of your post?

    If, as a Christian leader, you want to say publicly: “No Catholic Christian can support the racist comments of the POTUS”, then I say: “Bravo!” — but your post was not turned that way.

    If, as a Catholic, you would like to suggest to our bishops that they say publicly: “No Catholic Christian can support the racist comments of the POTUS”, then I support that — but it would have been much better to contact bishops in private than on a blog!

    If you are expressing your frustration that not enough of them have spoken up, then I understand your frustration, but that post of yours is useless except for you letting off some steam. Or is it a way to try to put some pressure on our bishops?

    So, what are you trying to achieve with this post?

  15. Thank you Fr. Anthony. You are quite right.

    Your comments reminded me of Pope Francis’s homily on 9/16/2013:

    “Politics, according to the Social Doctrine of the Church, is one of the highest forms of charity, because it serves the common good. I cannot wash my hands, eh? We all have to give something!” he said. “A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern.”

  16. I agree Anthony, Hate should be roundly condemned. Both right extremist hate and left extremist hate are patently unchristian and inhuman. Calls for violence and assassination attempts should also be vociferously condemned by those who bear the name of Christ. Love of God and love of neighbor go hand in hand. I don’t think we will have a problem in preaching against hate if only we are consistent and unpartisan.

  17. If the Church does not speak out on what is clearly an issue of power, oppression, hate and evil, then people will know that God does not care about them in times of deep distress.

    Or the Church could simply keep quiet and leave that voice to the politicians who are trying to speak for the Church anyways. Preach AWR.

    Or the Church could believe Vice President Pence who has told the believers that the Catholics have a great supporter in President Trump. And let them set the agenda.


    1. Well, this administration is about to act on religious freedom in a way that the previous administration only paid lip service to…crickets.

  18. Not over the line. If we as Catholics preach justice inside the church building, we must be speaking it outside the building or we are nothing but hypocrites. I believe Jesus would expect nothing less.

  19. Regarding: “It’s pretty important to me, as a monk and someone in ordained ministry and a member of a theology faculty, to be nonpartisan.”
    – Like Calvin Coolidge’s pastor, you are against sin.
    – Hard to avoid bumping into sin when homilizing what scripture tells to us about our lives, our secular world, and our comportment and deportment therein as we work to realize the Kingdom in the world in which we live.
    – Hard to see how responding liturgically to what is seen in the secular world via the lens of scripture constitutes bringing the bugaboo of politics into the Eucharist, or common prayer, or private devotions.
    – On the whole, there are times when liturgically we Christians need to be on the rooftops proclaiming always and declaiming when necessary.

  20. What you post on Facebook, and even what you post on the Facebook “Pray, Tell” blog, can be more loosely controlled than what is preached during the liturgy. Rightly so.

    Many of the comments have addressed preaching during the liturgy. There, I think the same sensitivity and frequency applies as with topics like domestic abuse, recreational drug use, and sex outside of marriage–issues which probably touch some members of the congregation personally. They need to be mentioned on occasion, for the sake of those directly affected, but IMO should be approached sideways and with much delicacy.

    Incidentally, comments posted on this thread aren’t showing up on “Recent Comments”; I just noticed them today.

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