01/07/2007: As an ardent anti-Communist/anti-totalitarian, I believe the Church should be active in rescuing people from oppression, that they may worship in liberty. Toward that end, the Church is active in rescuing North Korean refugees from torture and/or death, as Melanie Kirkpatrick of the Wall Street Journal pointed out on 18 December 2006.
During the height of the Cold War, three prominent leaders emerged to confront–decisively–the evil that is Communism: United States President Ronald Reagan, British President Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II.
Neither of the three were perfect: each had personal–and political–shortcomings, but the three of them teamed up to drive a wedge into the heart of Lenin, Stalin, and their twisted disciples.
Sadly, we are now learning that a number Catholic leaders in the Eastern Bloc actively cooperated with Communist officials during the Cold War, and in doing so enabled and empowered profoundly oppressive regimes. The lastest casualty: would-be Archbishop of Poland, Stanislaw Wielgus.
Being a non-Catholic, why should I care?
Here in the United States, the Church has historically had cozy relations with the State. Eisenhower added “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance; it’s not like he was a card-carrying fundamentalist. Carter was the first professed “born again” Christian in the White House. Reagan was an ally to an overwhelming number of religious conservatives, and Jerry Falwell was a constant visitor to the Reagan White House. Even Clinton had his share of evangelical supporters, such as Tony Campolo.
Unfortunately, many evangelicals have latched onto the State as a means of ushering in God’s kingdom. I know ministers who have questioned the Christianity of those who do not vote Republican.
What gets lost here is this: right now, the Church in the United States enjoys cozy relations with the State, and this is true not only at the federal level but also at the state and local levels, and in almost every state in the union.
As long as government is not totalitarian, this is not all bad. After all, the Church should advise local, state, and federal leaders regarding the consequences of law and policy, and the Church owes it to the Body and the Shepherd to articulate the truth regarding the issues of the day. In doing so, however, the Church must maintain an “in the world but not of the world” stance: that means speaking the truth and standing for the truth and obeying the truth without becoming an instrument of the State.
Every Christian should take serious heed of the situation in Poland: as government gets increasingly intrusive, the Church risks becoming a ward of the State. The record of this is well-documented for Nazi Germany, and we now know that the Soviets co-opted Church leaders to spy on their own people during their oppression of Eastern Europe.
Stanislaw Wielgus, sadly, has tarnished not only his own name, but also the Church, many of whose leaders risked–sometimes losing–their lives in opposition to the mass humanitarian tragedy known as Communism.
That same betrayal can happen anywhere.