Steve Weatherbe recently reported in the global Catholic news portal Aleteia that America’s Catholic bishops are upping the pressure on Congress to offer an amnesty deal for illegal immigrants before the fall elections — which they and everyone else expect will yield a more conservative Congress.
Evangelical leaders who have hopped on the immigration bandwagon are also trying to move their more skeptical co-religionists into line with the Catholics and Democrats on this issue. It might seem ironic that social conservatives are trying to rush into law a major reform on a profoundly important national issue, lest the voters speak their minds and elect a more conservative Congress.
Is immigration an issue where Christians are morally obliged to part ways with their longtime conservative allies, because the obligations of the Gospel demand that we set aside national selfishness, and possibly even covert racist sentiments?
The National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), the National People's Action and the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON) hold a rally calling for the end of deportations of illegal immigrants in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. on April 28, 2014. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
That is how some religious writers are casting the question. Prominent among them is Virginia Republican Party Executive Director, Shaun Kenney, ally of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who was recently crushed by Dave Brat in that state’s Republican primary, largely because of Cantor’s support for passing an amnesty deal with the support of congressional Democrats.
In the buildup to that primary, Kenney penned an astonishing article in which he demonized opponents of amnesty as “know-nothings,” “nativists” and “clowns.” Citing none of the rational opponents of amnesty, but instead a collection of anonymous xenophobic rants, Kenney portrayed Brat supporters as hateful and dangerous heirs to the Ku Klux Klan, and called for Republicans to “drive them out” of the party.
Kenney’s piece is itself one of the more hateful, violent instances of political rhetoric I have seen in many years. With supporters like Kenney backing him, no wonder Virginia’s Republican voters decided instead to drive out Cantor instead.
Do a little more digging on Mr. Kenney, and you see exactly why he regards American patriotism as suspect: He is a politicized Catholic supremacist, who suggests that his co-religionists (I am one of them) ought to abandon any concern for the well-being of our fellow-Americans, and cast our political loyalty with our church, instead of our country.
We must work for a “Catholic restoration,” and shed “worldly ideologies” such as American democratic capitalism. We should “stop being… conservative[s],” and form our political views according to whatever statements, at whatever level of authority, come out of the Vatican. When the Vatican changes its policy on an issue, we must change our minds too — like loyal Communists following the Moscow party line. (How fitting that the site where Kenney published his Catholic supremacist screed has also tried to rehabilitate Karl Marx.)
Now, I have spent 40 years defending the Church’s authoritative teachings on moral issues — beginning at age 11, collecting signatures for New York City’s right-to-life candidate for mayor. But as a well-informed Catholic, I know that the Church makes no idolatrous claims that the pope is a gateway into the mind of God, bubbling up like an 8-Ball with the answers to every policy question that comes along.
Our recent popes have largely been prudent and holy men, whose advice on the technical implementation of Christian ethics has often been wise. But the Church admits that popes are merely human, and that 99.99999999999 percent of statements by popes are completely fallible, subject to correction and even respectful disagreement.
For instance, consider assertions by several popes that any lending at interest is a sin against nature, akin to sodomy. (Now the Vatican runs its very own bank.) Or statements by popes endorsing slavery and the persecution of Protestants — two practices the Church now teaches are intrinsically, always and everywhere evil.
More recently, Pope Paul VI wrote in an encyclical (Populorum Progressio) that Third World poverty could be solved by raising taxes in the rich countries, and sending billions in foreign aid to foreign governments. Forty years of waste and corruption have shown that such government-to-government foreign aid was typically useless or even disastrous, much of it ending up in the Swiss bank accounts of vicious dictators.
So pardon me if I don’t expect the Vatican to write America’s immigration laws, or draw up its federal budget. That’s not part of its job description.
The Church depends on laymen to make the tough, prudential decisions about how to apply Christian principles to practical situations — indeed, Pope Leo XIII and Pope John Paul II each denied that their papal office gave them any special insight into how such principles ought to be put into practice. They were good and humble men, and did not crave the magical status of oracles that some ideologues try to attribute to them.
When the pope speaks about moral principles, we Catholics have to listen - and non-Catholics ought to as well, since these are highly educated, deeply prayerful men. But no pope, and no pastor, has a monopoly on rational thought. Christians can and should differ on how to resolve America’s immigration problems.
An immigration activist holds up a sign on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol during an All In for Citizenship rally April 10, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Getty Images)
If the reader is interested, I have tried to defend the conservative position, drawing on Christian principles and the demands of the common good for my fellow American citizens. But I could be wrong. I’m not infallible — and on issues this specific, nobody is.
My good friend Jason Jones thinks that an amnesty plan could work — provided that it was accompanied by rock-solid guarantees of renewed border security. I fear that the Democrats and the cheap labor lobby will always find ways to wriggle out of enforcing any real border control, which means that conservatives will have surrendered on the deeply symbolic issue of illegal immigration and gotten nothing in return — except an amnesty that invites another wave of illegal influxes.
I also worry about accepting millions more future Democratic voters, whose allegiance will tend (like Boston’s Irish) to follow which ever politician promises the most generous government programs.
Whatever your position, it is clear that immigration reform is utterly unlike abortion, slavery, genocide, or other profound moral issues where Christians were solemnly called to defend the dictates of a transcendent moral order. It’s an issue we can argue about, as patriotic citizens of good will, without demonizing each other or trying to “drive out” people who differ with us. I’m astonished that the Republican Party of the Commonwealth of Virginia is led by someone who doesn’t accept that fact.
John Zmirak is co-author of the upcoming book, "The Race to Save Our Century." His columns are archived at www.badcatholics.com.
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