If I ever meet Pat Buchanan Im going to kiss him. On the lips. That man has kept me in sermon material for the last 20 years or so, and for that Im more grateful than GM and Chrysler combined.
It all started in 1989, when then Episcopal Bishop of New Jersey, John Jack Spong, up and ordained an openly gay priest in his diocese. Pat wigged out over the notion that such a storied religious tradition would commit so grievous a sin. So, hell-bent on revenge he fired off a syndicated column fairly singed with righteous outrage.
I got two sermons out of that one.
And when some two years later the same Rev. Spong, in light of some pretty sound biblical scholarship, posited the possibility that St. Paul might have been gay, Buchanan pitched a fit worthy of a canvas blazer and a padded room. In yet another heated column he lamented that the Episcopal tradition could no longer be characterized as the Republican Party at prayer, so far had the church strayed from its historical moorings. He clearly was at theological sea and didnt like it one damn bit.
Cha-ching: more fodder for the old sermon mill.
And last month ol Pat gifted me with his latest foray into theological indignation: Notre Dames commencement address invitation to Obama, complete with an honorary doctorate. The presenting issue? Abortion. How, he asked, could a Catholic institution hosteven honorthe man he referred to as the most pro-abortion president ever? Furthermore, can Notre Dame, he wondered, any longer claim to be a Catholic university?
Vintage Buchanan, man. I swear, the sermon material just keeps on comin.
As luck would have it, I last month took part in Planned Parenthoods annual anti-protest event here in the Twin Cities. The drill was simple and common: outside the clinic the anti-abortion folks marched in a circle, held signs, sang and prayed, and the PP staff and supporters (sans the prayers) pretty much followed suit. Save for a few conversion attempts from the anti-choice campplus, in the interest of full disclosure, an impromptu and thankfully short, Keep your rosaries off my ovaries! rant by a few pro-choicersthe rules of engagement were tempered by Minnesota nice. (Well, that, barricades and about a dozen of Minneapolis finest.) The kicker: in contrast to Buchanans single-minded view of the Roman tradition, self-identified Catholics were on both sides of the barriers.
The frontlines of reproductive freedom continue to shift in this country, and religious traditions are bound to evidence those same shifts. In the case of Notre Dame, it has a large, diverse theological carbon footprint; it follows that both progressive and conservative Catholics would want to weigh in on the universitys Obama invitation. But Buchanans frontal assault is based on the false premise that Notre Dame (and by proxy, American Catholicism) is uniformly beholden to stated Church doctrine. What appears to him to be a yes/no questionIs Notre Dame still Catholic?is inextricably bound up with the true diversity that is the modern Roman Catholic Church in America. Theres the map in Pat Buchanans mind, and then theres the actual lay of the land. Evidently frustrated by the difference between the two, he again invoked the blasphemy card, this time to impugn a womans bodily and moral sovereignty.
Look, wrapping oneself in religious tradition and self-aggrandizing judgmentalism is understandable when your worlds going to hell in the hand basket of relativism. And Buchanan is right about how the once monolithic bulwark of theology is breached each and every time another esteemed religious institution sheds the illusion of doctrinal lockstep. But pining for some morally pure golden age (real or perceived) is hardly an excuse for blaming Notre Dame for selecting as its commencement speaker the President of the United States, let alone denouncing somebodys constitutionally sanctioned freedom.
So, my sincere (if somewhat ashamedly smug) thanks be to Mr. Pat Buchanan: loyal foot solider for past Republican presidents, onetime presidential candidate, hard-right pundit and friend of at least one liberal minister. Sure, some of my progressive colleagues think hes daftthat his stick hasnt been on the ice for quite some time nowbut not me. No sir, Pats The Man in my book. I could kiss him for the veritable treasure trove of sermon material hes thrown my way over the years. And if I ever meet him, I will.
Rev. Don Rollins is interim minister of the Minnesota Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Bloomington, Minn. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2009
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